Sunday, 29 December 2013

a landlubber's eye view

Dana, our friend and photographer

A lovely old friend joined us on Nyon for the month of December. Of course we took her sailing and explored some of the islands in the Bay of Islands. The following photos were all taken by Dana, in the islands of Urupukapuka and Moturua.

Friday, 20 December 2013

the road files: when left is right

Off we go!
Our inaugural road trip in New Zealand began on the twisting road outside Opua where, unbelievably to us, the speed limit is 100km/h. Rick quipped, “Well this is different. I’ve spent the last two and half years moving at 8 km/h or less…” It certainly put things in perspective for us. To top it off, in this country they drive on the wrong left side of the road. Including this first road trip, we have now both driven a few hundred kilometers in rented cars. In the beginning, we'd chant "driver in the middle!" every time one of us had to make a turn. (Thanks for the tip Kate!) Except for the occasional signalling left with the windshield wipers, we now have it down. (Well, parking lots still cause some heart palpitations at times and forget parallel parking...) 

A little tense but getting the hang of it!
Back to our first road trip: we rented a car and left Opua one very rainy morning. We were going to the big city (Auckland) to visit friends and to pick up our bonus crew at the airport the next day. That first leg, there were a few anxiety riddled "Not too far to the left, not too far to the left!" and "Turn right here!" from the navigator with the driver pointing to the left saying "Right here? You mean turn right here?" "No, that right!” (With the navigator pointing to the actual right.) Poor Rick, he was translating right to left when he didn't need to...

The big smoke!

Reunited with a lovely friend!
Auckland was a whirlwind of reuniting with friends: We reconnected with the crew of the yacht Wondertime, a little family we met when we first crossed the border into Mexico in 2011. It was great fun! Dana arrived from Canada bright and early the next day. A regular visitor on Nyon, we were thrilled to have her back. Following a brunch date with our buddy boats, we headed back for Opua. After Auckland, Opua seemed miniscule, and that’s because it is. And of course, Dana’s first day in New Zealand began with a big enough downpour for her to discover the leak at the foot of her berth.

Gotta have an arty shot

Our first road trip behind us, we were ready to head out to the islands, for more of that island pace we’ve grown fond of. And that’s just what we did.

Our Canadian ambassador (a.k.a. bonus crew) has arrived!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

a tall ship, quirky birds, and tasty seafood

In good company

Nature boy
It’s not every day that we share an anchorage with a Tall Ship. The Picton Castle showed up one morning and we admired it from our cockpit. To my amusement, Rick pointed out, “You know, Nyon is older than that ship…” We had anchored off Roberton Island the day before: the wind had veered to the north and our little hideaway anchorage just south of there had become uncomfortable. It’s a good thing we did; the north-easterly wind reached 35 knots within the hour. We dug our anchor in and burrowed in the cabin, working on boat chores. It was a second cup of coffee kind of day. Eventually the wind died down, and by the next day, a mild, slightly overcast morning that cleared to blue skies by the afternoon greeted us. We went ashore fairly early that second day, a good time to explore this island. It tends to attract tourists in various floating devices later in the day.

Can you see me? Can you see me?
Rick recently downloaded an Iphone application that describes some of New Zealand’s fauna, we’ve been having fun reading about all the various birds we see around here, including listening to sound bites of their calls. We’ve gotten as curious about local birds as we are about the fish varieties whose paths we’ve crossed under water. The dotterel is a quirky bird that runs around the beach. They are almost like a mechanized toy that stops and starts abruptly. We had read they kept their eggs buried in beaches and if they chase you or even “act” injured while coming toward you, you should carefully walk away. It means they are guarding their young. We found it hard to track their movements from a distance, they are quick and camouflage easily among the pebbles. We’ve also been observing black oystercatchers with their long orange-red beaks, squeaking as they forage for food. And when we hiked to the viewpoint, we observed a few more varieties of birds, including the fantail (piwakawaka in Maori), a bird that well, fans out its tail. It allows it to quickly twist and turn to catch insects while in flight. Those little birds are difficult to catch with a camera.

Oystercatcher looking for a little variety

Soaking in the island

After our forays ashore, we continued ticking boat chores of our to-do list until the yacht Leletty arrived in the bay. Jean and Stephanie are a French couple we met a couple times throughout the Pacific. They came by our boat to invite us to go mussel harvesting. I jumped at the chance, while Rick chose to continue puttering aboard. Now I can say I know where to look for the delicious green-lipped mussels of New Zealand. We had fun negotiating the swell and jagged rocks jumping off and on the dinghy, Stephanie and I ended up collecting mussels while Jean explored about in the dinghy. That was my first time “hunting” mussels as Rick likes to call it. Acquaintances that have lived here for the past year pointed out on a chart where to dive for scallops, I showed the location to the Leletty crew as we went by it. I was glad when they decided to go get some after inviting us for a mussel dinner. The wimps on Nyon aren’t quite ready to dive in the cold (to us) New Zealand waters. They found scallops and we didn’t have to get wet! Needless to say, we had a great feast that night.

Crazy for NZ

Happy campers, err, sailors

It turns out that we liked Roberton Island too. Only a few dozen more anchorages to go.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

le coup de foudre*

Urupukapuka Island on a sunny day
It took one island. For two weeks, we ran around making plans, thinking ahead, imagining bigger centres. And then we came to this island. It may appear silly to you, but in one afternoon, we both decided we might actually already be where we want to be, for now anyhow. Opua is tiny, and while it’s busy in the summer, we’ve been told it is dead in the winter. I was afraid of feeling stuck, isolated. We wondered if there would actually be work for us here. (We still don’t know.) We almost overlooked this region.

Then, we sailed to the island of Urupukapuka right here in the Bay of Islands. Do you know how pretty it is here? It’s the kind of pretty that’s good for the soul. It’s the kind of pretty that makes you want to breathe deep and give Mother Nature a pat on the back while saying “Well done, my dear, well done.” One thing we had both agreed upon was that wherever we ended up, we wanted to go back to our Victoria habits of regularly sailing away and hiding out on weekends. Well, if we do stay here, we have a huge and beautiful playground to do just that.

A vibrant sunset in Otaio Bay
This is all in the “maybe” and “what if” stage. We’ll leave you with a taste of what it's like in this little haven. Of course, we could still change our minds…

*Le coup de foudre has a literal and a figurative meaning: While it actually means lightning bolt, it is an expression that is used to describe the feeling of "love at first sight".

Getting a little taste of the island the first afternoon (with the
Osprey crew)
There are some pretty cool trees here, this one had real potential
to hold a treehouse!

Yup, definitely chillier

The next day:
Capturing Nyon and Brian mid-sentence

Richard leads us toward Urupukapuka Bay

A nod to the Scottish blood in the family
In my happy place

Dramatic landscape, reminds me a little of East Sooke Park in Canada

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

a sort of nirvana

Entering the Bay of Islands, a sweet, sweet sight

Opua Marina on a gloriously sunny day
New Zealand feels a little like we finally reached the carrot at the end of the stick. It’s a place to pause. Somewhere one can look back and ponder the incredible distance travelled in the past 8 months. We’re still a little surprised. We crossed the Pacific Ocean to get here! We met incredible people, travelled thousands of miles, visited dozens of islands. And we made it in one piece. (More or less.)

New Zealand is also where we have rediscovered a world of plenty. Leiagh, a friendly local woman, took a few cruisers to Paihia, the town next to tiny Opua. Opua basically boasts a marina and many friendly marine businesses and not much else. It was a Thursday afternoon and Paihia’s outdoor farmer’s market was in full swing. There, we stuffed our carry bags with fresh avocadoes, oranges and lettuce. There is also a medium-sized grocery store in town. When Nicole and I stepped through the front doors, we were dumbfounded. We’d forgotten what grocery stores could be like. They have everything here. I picked up a large block of sharp cheddar cheese and asked Nicole, “Do you think I’m overdoing it if I buy this?” To which Nicole replied, “Are you kidding! I have the same one in my cart!” Our eyes were shiny with all the possibilities.

To say that our first week here was a tad overwhelming is an understatement. Yet we are not the only ones. Every day, there are new arrivals. Ocean travellers like us, a little shell-shocked, relieved to have finished another long passage, and not quite believing they’ve come this far. The main topics of conversation have revolved around passage making, quickly followed by food, hot showers, haircuts, and the Laundromat. I felt self-conscious about the sheer volume of laundry we carried into the Laundromat the other day, but only for a very brief moment. We are all in the same boat, pun intended. Every piece of fabric is damp after passage making, and warm clothes that haven’t seen the light of day in years, smell bad. Comforters and sleeping bags need a refresher.  Everything has to go in, and oh, the luxury of machine-washed laundry. It was as good as I’d imagined…

A cigar was just the ticket...
The best part in all this was reuniting with friends and acquaintances. We caught up with people we hadn’t seen since Mexico. We met others whose boat names we’d heard over the radio waves throughout the Pacific, and of course, there were the ones we had our first celebration with. Our friends on Dream Time and Bella Star were here when we arrived. A night of cigars and whiskey (or wine or beer) and stories was the perfect way to begin our stay here. We have since explored the area with the gang, and went as far as Keri Keri for Nicole’s birthday a few days later. We don’t need a reason to celebrate with these guys, but this was a great excuse to pretend we were normal and go to a “real” restaurant. Since then, many friends have arrived, and it’s difficult to walk from the café to the shower block without having to stop and chat with this boat crew or that boat crew.

The Dreamers, the Stars, and the Nyoners... Celebrating Nicole's birthday in style!
But the whirlwind is slowing down. We are now faced with decisions. Where we settle down and who do we contact for potential work. We also have to catch up on paperwork and real-life stuff. It hasn’t hit us yet, all the coming changes. Rick says he has a hard time shifting gears between having the boat in survival mode to a cosmetically pleasing coastal cruising vessel. (It’ll take us a while to get there.) We both welcome change, but we also wonder what it will do to us. We’ll just take it one baby step at a time. In the meantime, we await the arrival of a loved one in our midst. Canada is sending us our soul-sister, and we can’t wait.

Now, I must find my jandles, get ready to fill a trundler with Kiwi goodies while I call out g’day to all the friendly Kiwis as I wander the streets. Just you wait, soon I’ll sound like a Kiwi. With a French accent, that is.


Shout out: Just wanted to mention the Marina Shop folks, they let cruisers use their Internet for free, answer a million questions and give you boat insurance if you want it. We've been hanging out in their office harrassing them and they keep smiling. If you come here one day, go say hi to Bill and Laura.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

on the edge of the ocean

Some boats never leave Minerva Reef...
Photo courtesy of Bella Star

Nearing Minerva
It really is the middle of nowhere. Okay, more specifically, it is one tiny spot in the Southern Pacific. You can’t see it until you’re almost on top of it. We noticed the bobbing sailboats at anchor before we saw it. It, is Minerva, a submerged coral atoll 790 nautical miles from New Zealand. 

At high tide, you can’t see the reef. At low tide, you can walk on parts of it.  There are a couple visible wrecks and one navigation light. Apparently the Tongans built it, the Fijians blew it up, and the Tongans rebuilt it, but that’s the past. They seem to have come to some kind of peaceful agreement, and it’s now flashing its trusty light. When you’re anchored inside the fringing reef (in depths ranging from 14 to 20 m), you feel like you are at the edge of the world. At least, that’s how I imagine it would look like, if there were an edge…

Looking out of Minerva
Photo courtesy of Bella Star

I was hemming and hawing about stopping at Minerva Reef. I really just wanted to get to New Zealand, but Rick thought it would be cool to check it out. In light of the weather forecast, it seemed like a good idea to stop after all. It’s easier to plan for a weather window to New Zealand, the closer you are. This was the last stop before New Zealand.

It turns out that we loved it there. I didn’t realize that with the intensity of the past few months, being somewhere where there was nothing, but a bit of coral and a few boats was exactly what we needed. We felt ourselves decompress; we took in the sky, the water and breathed a sigh of relief. We were fortunate to have our buddies on Bella Star and Dream Time there too. We were in good company.

The Dream Team
Photo courtesy of Dream Time
We snorkelled a wreck and some of the coral, Nicole and I saw the biggest lobsters I have ever seen. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the lobsters) when Neville and Rick showed up ready to hunt, the lobsters made themselves scarce. They saw one giant who found a crevasse to hide in. I walked on the fringing reef with Aaron and Nicole, we were blown away by the colourful canvas. This sunscreen vigilante forgot to layer sunscreen on and ended up a glowing shade of red that night. In spite of that, much fun was had with the gang. We got to just “be” for a few days. While we did tackle some boat chores, everything (including us) moved in slow motion.

Girl Time with Nicole
Photo courtesy of Bella Star
Wonder what its story is...
Photos courtesy of Bella Star

This pit-stop turned out to be a gift. Sometimes, the middle of nowhere is perfect.

something a little different

Nuku'alofa, Tonga: Do you see Nyon? 
We were told, “Meh, it’s not nice.” “The harbour is dirty, it’s a sess pool.” “You don’t want to go there.” I’m careful to take those kinds of comments too seriously. I have loved some of the grittiest places just for the assault to my senses and for taking me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say, we weren’t sure what to expect from Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu Group). In the end, it was just a busy working town. I liked the harbour: the old rusty fishing boats and the fruit stands on the waterfront with carefully piled tomatoes. Nuku’alofa, was just fine as far as I was concerned. Our friend Aaron had a point, “For most people it’s just not their vision of the South Pacific.” True that, but I don’t mind the variety, the “reality version” of the South Pacific is just as fascinating. I don’t expect sandy beaches and coconut trees at every turn, (although we saw that nearby too).
Somewhere on the island
When we first arrived and just before we left, we anchored off Pangaimotu, a little island a mile from the main harbour of Nuku’alofa. That spot was very chill, and “Big Mama’s” was the quintessential South Pacific restaurant, with the rickety plank off a tiny floating dock. The deck was lined with long tables, complete with peeling paint and autographs.  Sandy floors and palm fronds completed the décor. The staff was always friendly and helpful and we enjoyed the vibe there. Earle and Anna own the place and offer a wealth of information. Anna is a constant presence. After all, she is Big Mama. One rainy afternoon, I explained to her how to read grib files and told her about our voyage, and she shared the history of Big Mama’s and life in Nuku’alofa with me.

We did med moor in the harbour proper for a few days: Nicole and Aaron, our friends on Bella Star, were already there and it was time for a reunion. This is also where we met Neville and Catherine on Dream Time, a fab pair we are so glad to have gotten to know since. We explored the area with this gang, and had a couple merry nights. We also jumped through the bureaucratic hoops (with ease, I might add). You have to present yourself at immigration, the port authority (only to check out), and customs upon arrival and prior to leaving the country. Everyone is friendly, it helps to thank them for their hospitality and talk about what you liked in Tonga.

Nuku'alofa: Fun times with Bella Star and Dream Time

Happy pair

As interesting as the town was, we were happy to return to Pangaimotu before we left Tonga. There was some drama in the harbour when we realized we’d crossed anchors with Dream Time. It got intimate for a while, oh the joys of med mooring in 20 knot winds! Once we anchored by Pangaimotu, the chill vibe prevailed. Well, mostly. We did have one crummy day.

Taking our stowaway from us, we were happy to
see it go!
We were busy preparing for the passage and many little things went wrong that day. I’ll admit there were a couple heated “debates”. Ultimately, it all came together, but we both had a pretty grumpy day. One of Rick’s tasks had been to clean and stow the secondary anchor and chain we’d used in the harbour. Both were caked with thick, grey, sticky mud. The anchor was double its weight when we pulled it up. Rick washed it down and dropped the chain, (sans anchor), off the stern for a while to rinse it. Later in the day, he tried to raise the chain. He could barely move it. Uh-oh. The water was not that clear and fairly deep there… He sweated bullets raising that chain, eventually using the manual windlass on the bow… It wasn’t coral, but what was it? We eventually found out. Our chain had wrapped itself around a large (150 pound) traditional style anchor with its own chain. That chain’s links were the size of my fist. I kid you not. (I won’t tell you about the colourful language when the chain skipped on the gypsy and the entire thing ended up on the bottom again. Rick had to pull it all back up again inch by inch.) I felt very sorry for him. Once it was up again we unravelled our chain but we didn’t want to drop the anchor back on the bottom as it could easily foul another boat’s anchor. So we left it dangling off our bow when we decided to indulge in Big Mama’s burgers one last time. Bella Star picked us up in their dinghy. On the way, Aaron placed a beer in Rick’s hand as a well-deserved recompense for a hard day’s work. Everything looked brighter after that. Rick told Earle about the anchor, who then offered to relieve us of our enormous stowaway. Things were much calmer and “normal” after that day.

Departure day: We left under a blanket of grey clouds. Once we were south of Tongatapu, the wind began blowing hard and the seas were confused.  It was time to bounce our way south, and rediscover temperate climates and… fast internet? A new chapter is about to begin. But first: Minerva Reef!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

landfall: opua, new zealand

Dramatic skies on the passage
The welcome sight of land
You want to know what a good landfall is like? I'll tell you. We arrived before dark, and the lush green landscape beckoned us into the Bay of Islands. As we neared the channel, a cluster of sailboats raced around us waving, some even shouted "Welcome". That put a smile on our faces. We noticed different smells, like some kind of pine? There are no coconut trees here. (I had to give Rick a hug when he acknowledged the sad truth and pouted.) As we neared the Quarantine Dock, a crowd on the Yacht Clubhouse patio all yelled and waved at us, "Welcome Nyon!" "Congrats on making it here!" How can you not grin. Just when I began to feel how tired I was, my lovely husband had already started heating up leftovers and pouring drinks. That's when I realized I was hungry too. What great timing.

It's quiet here, (we hear voices from the Clubhouse, but that's oddly comforting). What we don't hear is waves slamming on the hull and the wind whistling through the rigging. And we don't have to hang on for dear life anymore, just to stand up. The boat is. so. still. Tomorrow morning we'll be jumping through hoops with customs and then... (To be continued.)

Enjoying one of many sunny days on the passage
Nearing land

Some days were cold

Our first morning in New Zealand
It was cold enough to turn on the propane heater
for the first time in over 2 years...

Position: 35* 18.47'S 174* 7.19'E


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