2016 Blog

31 December 2016 – Brisbane Australia

We’ve now been in Australia for a month. We know our way around the local area and can avoid the multitude of toll roads and bridges and I haven’t gotten any more speeding tickets. We avoid driving during rush hour, for obvious reasons. The temperature is ramping up and some days are busting over 30C – summer is just starting. Sometimes, its a welcome relief to just get in our air-conditioned car and drive to an air conditioned mall or store. In that month, we’ve had cruising friend visitors four times – and the most recent visit was by John Duckworth (an expat Brit) and his girlfriend Bernie (a native Aussie). We first met John in September 2011 (on his catamaran SV PURRFECT), when we were in Grenada for hurricane season and have encountered him again many times throughout the Caribbean.

When deciding where to berth in Australia, Diane and I were unable to discover any evidence of a real foreign cruising community, it was unlike any other country we’ve been to. Why, I couldn’t say for sure, but here are a few possible reasons: its a big country with lots of opportunities, Queensland is quite negative about “live-aboards” and a lot of cruisers actually “give Australia a miss” because of the hassles of clearing in. For us, since our generator is suspicious and unreliable, we needed a place to “call home” to take care of it. Therefore, we’ve decided to stay here until May 2017, also rationalizing our car purchase. So, last week we had yet another cruising Christmas dinner afloat. It wasn’t hard to find a turkey and although much more expensive than a roast chicken – its much more Christmasy as well. The unexpected problem we ran into was “who to invite for Christmas dinner”. In the past, we’ve always invited other cruisers for Christmas dinner. As it is, there are only a couple of other foreign flagged cruising boats in our marina and we found that the people were either unavailable due to other plans or out of the country. So, as usual, Diane made a wonderful Christmas dinner, based on a BBQ roast turkey that I monitored on our reliable Weber BBQ – and we enjoyed it ourselves, unable to round up any guests!

We’ve been to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Planetarium for a day visit. The grounds are free and quite nice to visit. Lunch in the restaurant was quite a reasonable price and we even took in the Planetarium film about moons. When buying our admission tickets, it occurred to me that at least I should be getting a “Seniors rate”. After all, I’m 60 now and haven’t worked in nearly 8 years. However, I’ve come to realize that Seniors discounts are nearly unachievable for visitors to Australia, a surprising and disappointing revelation given the importance of the tourist industry in this country. At least I haven’t been able to score one yet! When I see a sign or advertisement for a seniors discount, it is always accompanied by the phrase “show your Queensland (State) Seniors card or reciprocal”. Not surprisingly, all the Australian states have reciprocal agreements with each other, recognizing their citizens/residents senior ages. However, for your average fly-in or cruise ship passenger, there is little chance that he/she will ever get any discount. Believe me, I’ve asked – and the response invariably is, let me see your card. I’ve even called the Queensland government office to discuss this, and they blew me off. In Canada, all you need to do is show some ID with your birth date on it (in English or French please), and you’ve just proved “you’re a senior”, but here in Australia – it appears that there are “Australian Seniors” and that’s it.

In the bonsai gardens, this was Diane’s favourite.

I learned something about ferns. Ferns are plants without flowers that range from small and delicate to quite larger fern trees. They are recognized as primitive plants being found in fossil records from over 200 million years ago. Today they are most abundant in the moist rainforests of tropical, subtropical and temperate climates. A few have adapted to life in desert areas and some are aquatic, their leaves emerging from or floating on water.

You also need to be careful of spiders in this country, as Australia has a well earned reputation for the variety of creatures that will bite, poison and/or eat you. Lots of spiders were living on webs just above our heads as we walked through the gardens.

This fellow looked pretty harmless.

10 December 2016 – Brisbane Australia

One of the first things we do when we arrive in a country is to look for mobile phone service. Its quite useful when we meet other cruisers, or when getting onshore service or ordering parts. In Brisbane, we got a SIM card for our Blackberry and bought “pay as you go” mobile time from Optus, a leading carrier. For $30 monthly, we get unlimited calling within Australia, unlimited texting within Australia and 3GB of data (which is plenty for us because our Marina has great, fast and free Internet). In addition, for the first month we received a bonus 3GB bringing us up to 6GB of data. This compares very favourably to the best Canadian rates (that we had last summer), where we had 400 minutes of talk time, 400 texts and 1GB of data for about $55 per month.

Last week, we took a fast ferry ride (Brisbane City Cat service) up river to the Southbank area.

Along the route, we spotted SV Evenstar (who we first me in Dominica 3 years ago, and again last year in NZ) on the pile moorings at the Botanical Gardens. We considered staying at these pile moorings in downtown Brisbane – but with our generator currently broken, it would have made life more difficult. Also, the cost to stay on one of these moorings is $10/day ($300/month), cheaper than our marina berth (at about $1000/month), but you don’t get much for it. I think I much prefer our marina berth. At least we get wifi, electricity, water, garbage disposal, hot showers – and a dock to step off onto, all included in the price.

South Bank is Brisbane’s premier lifestyle and cultural destination – in other words, very touristy. Its located on the southern banks of the Brisbane River smack in the middle of the city. Its 17 hectares of lush parklands, world-class eateries, stunning river views and hundreds of delightful events all year round make it a great place to spend the afternoon.

The Wheel of Brisbane is a bit of an attraction, installed in 2008 as part of the 150th anniversary of the State of Queensland. Each of the 42 air conditioned capsules can hold up to 6 people and takes people up to 60m high. An adult fare is $20 for a 12 minute ride.

There are lots of nice views at Southbank.

The Rivergate Marina staff have been great about driving us around – and picking us up. In the past two weeks, we’ve had them take us to about 5 different places for groceries, tourism, or to get to a bus/train station – but we wanted more freedom, so we bought a used car! We haven’t read very much about foreign cruisers buying cars in Australia so I thought this was significant. We were feeling that the cost of public transportation was quite high ($5 or more per person, per trip) and since the price of gasoline isn’t too bad at about $1.20/litre, we decided that getting a car made sense. Transferring the ownership over to my name cost about $97, and that included a 3.5% stamp tax on the purchase price of the car. The annual registration costs are another matter, and that may cost us several hundreds of dollars, but at the moment we are benefitting from the “residual” registration left by the previous owner. We bought a 2001 Subaru Liberty, with 165,000 km on it. Mechanically, it is in very good shape. Cosmetically, it is a little tired, but quite sufficient for our purposes. It looks and drives very well for a 15 year old car.

12 months of 3rd party insurance (coverage for several millions of dollars) cost us only $196 and we also bought “Roadside Assistance” for less than $80.

2 December 2016 – Brisbane Australia

In our last few days while still in New Zealand, Diane and I went to the Parrot Place near Keri-Keri where there were hundreds of different varieties of parrots, many that you could feed.

Back at the marina, we accepted a crew member, Raphael (36 year old from France) who had arrived on another boat sailing from French Polynesia just 10 days earlier. Raphael has been making his way around the world “on other people’s sailboats” for the past 2 years. He was keen to keep moving, and was grateful to have had a bit of time to explore New Zealand. This is our departure photo, just minutes before casting off the lines.

Our 1250nm passage from Opua to Brisbane took just 9 days, a day less than I had predicted. It was a pretty good passage, but – both Diane and Raphael were very sea-sick for the first two days. It was rough and we were sailing hard, broad-reaching, on the back side of one of the constant march of low pressure systems that flow North through the Tasman Sea. Then we had 5 great days of sailing, night and day, and motor-sailed at the end with 36 hours of very light conditions.

Once we were through the lumpy stuff, it was an enjoyable passage.

We hired a professional weather router for this passage, since the Tasman Sea has a reputation for unpleasant conditions and officially, we were crossing several weeks after cyclone season had already started. Bruce Buckley (works out of Perth Australia) routed us clearly North and then West, skillfully navigating us around the edge of a developing low wind high pressure system. The blue line represents my planned route, while the red line indicates the actual track taken.

There were only two real problems that occurred during this passage. Since it was so windy, and I was using our Hamilton-Ferris towed water generator making electricity as well, we never needed to run the generator for the first 3 days. At the end of the third day, Diane had prepped a meal and I started up the generator – and it ran for about 4 minutes and then shut-down – same problem as in Opua. Obviously, the internal cooling system still isn’t repaired. So, I figured, I’ll just run the Volvo 100HP turbo diesel, since it has a 200A alternator attached – and then discovered that it wouldn’t start because the anti-siphon loop failed to “break the siphon”, and water had filled the exhaust hose, exhaust elbow and head! I promptly removed the exhaust hose, removed the 4 dual injectors and used a shop vac to suck out the water in the head. Then, the next step was to reinsert the 4 injectors, bleed the air out of the diesel lines and start it up. But, during reassembly I discovered that 2 of the 4 injectors had a broken “yoke”, poor manufacturing I’d say.

I ended up putting them back in place with crazy glue, epoxy putty around the edges and then holding them tight with two pair of VICE-GRIPS. Much to my surprise, this fix lasted for the next 6 days. Now we’re in our slip and it looks like I’ll I have to buy 4 new injectors.

On the way in through the Brisbane harbour at dawn, we were surprised at how much vessel traffic there was. Our chart and AIS display were constantly in motion with tugs, container ships, tankers and even a cruise ship. At one point, we were passed by the Japanese frigate Takamura.

People have asked me how we communicate when at sea, and for us – the answer is through our HF/SSB radio, an ICOM IC-M802 and Pactor 2usb modem. I connect through the world-wide WINLINK amateur radio system and send/receive emails through the digital modem into Internet gateways. The traffic is slow, but it works – and there is no cost other than the equipment setup and the skill of operation. Here is a screen shot of the Airmail program that I use to send/receive emails.

This is a photo of the Brisbane skyline (not taken by me) that was effectively in front of us while we were entering.

Our arrival at the Quarantine dock at Rivergate Marina was timed well so that we arrived at high slack tide. Several months ago, we had previously arranged 1 year visas, so the Immigration area was covered. Just about everyone visiting Australia has to arrive with a visa in hand. Customs and Immigration went smoothly and there were no charges. The Biosecurity officer arrived a few hours later, and his visit took only about an hour as he hunted around looking for evidence of worms or insect infestation. Since our arrival was on a Sunday, we were in for some overtime charges but we were pleasantly surprised that the total charges came out to only $ 280, including overtime. I suppose it helps to have a neat, tidy, clean boat. The Biosecurity Officer confiscated two packages of frozen chicken, but left us with all our other frozen meats and our New Zealand block of cheese. He did take what was left of our fresh vegetables, but there wasn’t much after 9 days at sea. The next day, Jason from the Rivergate Marina staff took us to a grocery store for resupply.

Our arrival in Australia got me thinking. Obviously, there are many more islands than continents. There are approximately 18,995 islands in the world while there are only 7 recognized continents: Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. We had just sailed from the island of New Zealand to the continent of Australia. In considering the difference between an island and a continent, it would appear that:

  1. Continents are different from islands in terms of size. Continents are bigger and wider than islands and somewhat arbitrarily designated.
  2. Islands are also more in number, approximately 18,995, compared to only 7 continents.
  3. Islands can also be man-made with the proper technology and equipment while continents will be a challenge to be made by human hands and technology.
  4. Continents can contain unique cultures as well as flora and fauna to other continents in great abundance while an island can only contain features in a smaller scale and scope.

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. The population of 24 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. It is the world’s sixth-largest country by total area. Brisbane is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Queensland, and the third most populous city in Australia. Brisbane’s metropolitan area has a population of 2.3 million, and the South East Queensland urban area, centred on Brisbane, encompasses a population of more than 3.4 million

We’re in for significantly warmer weather than what we experienced in New Zealand – and its “about time”.

I’ve found that the Canadian dollar is nearly on par with the Australian dollar, it has been for decades. On the other hand, over the past year the New Zealand dollar has risen about 10% making it now worth more than the Canadian and Australian dollars. Not surprisingly, we’ve found that the cost of groceries is lower in Australia, particularly with meat, fruit and vegetables – all local products. A year ago we were thrilled with the cost of cheese in New Zealand, but here its easy to get a 1kg block of Australian cheddar for under $6 in any grocery store.

Conventional cyclone avoidance strategy for cruisers is “don’t sail North of Brisbane from 1 November to 1 May” so it looks like we’ll be here for a while, particularly with both the Volvo and ONAN needing attention. Diane’s brother Henry will be flying from Canada for a month long visit in February, so we’ll be exploring further afield then. In the meantime, our plan is to make short day trips exploring what’s to be found in our local area.

A few days after arriving, we were visited by Christopher and Christine (C squared) from SV SCINTILLA, who are temporarily berthed at Scarborough Marina and making their way South to Sydney. We first met C2 when we were in Tahiti, about 1.5 years ago.

We spent the day with C2, as they drove around running errands and even dropped in to visit Norm on SV DREAMCATCHER, who has his boat on the hard at “The Boatworks”. Norm will be flying back to Canada in a week to spend the holiday season with family.

4 November 2016 – Opua New Zealand

We launched on 10 October and motored North to Opua (73nm) in preparation to stage for our next passage to Brisbane Australia. On the way up here (only 11 hours motor-sailing), we were on the look out for any issues that needed attention, while we waited for an appropriate weather window. At the moment, we’re dockside – waiting for generator repairs.

Not surprisingly, we did discover a few things that needed attention:

Our jib furler jammed (like it did when arriving in Fiji a year ago) while rolling up the jib at 0200 about 30 minutes before arriving, so we had Paul Smith of NZ Yacht Services have a look at it in Opua. He adjusted/tuned the rig and sorted out our furler issue in short order and at low cost. In short, the foil had to be hoisted up about two feet higher and then properly locked in place. When I installed the new furler in Fiji last year, I allowed the foil to rest (by gravity) on the lower STA-LOCK fitting. This was bad because the upper swivel for the jib ended up being hoisted just a little too high, fell “off the foil” and jammed, unable to rotate. We found the proverbial “smoking gun”. 

At dockside, we discovered that our generator would start but wouldn’t stay running for more than a few minutes. It didn’t sound like it was a fuel problem, but more like a “directed shut-down”. There is a control panel that responds to three sensors (exhaust elbow heat, internal coolant pump heat, and oil pressure). I figured that one of these sensors was either broken or “doing its job”. Since we don’t have any actual gauges to show the temperature or oil pressure, I called in the mechanics at SeaPower to come and have a look. The diagnosis was that the coolant was very old (and no longer retained its anti-corrosive properties), and a flange on the head had cracked, the debris plugging the internal coolant passages. I also noticed a green ghoulish glow of coolant in the raw water circuit (shared with the aft head) and then took out the heat exchanger for testing. Pressure testing confirmed that the heat exchanger also had some broken/corroded channels, so that needed to be replaced as well. This repair is still underway, and we’re waiting for the new heat exchanger to come in.

Since we had to wait around for a while anyway, I called on Cameron of Trans Marine to help me a long-standing electrical issue. A long time ago, I wired up a second alternator on the Volvo (125A) but replaced it with a 200A model when we were in PEI seven years ago. What’s the difference? I never changed the wire, so the output of the “new” alternator never got close to its theoretical maximum. Cameron replaced the wire, installed a temperature sensor and adjusted the regulator and then we were seeing output of 175A, a far cry from the 30-40A we’ve become accustomed to.

Cameron of Trans Marine also helped me to troubleshoot why our Balmar Duo-Charge (to trickle charge the bow battery) stopped working 5 months ago, and it was an easy fix. A fuse holder (not the fuse) had failed.

Diane’s iPad application for offshore charting, Navionics failed during a chart download two months ago. Something is wrong with the app and we’ve been dealing with Navionics for a while to try and get this sorted out. They tell us that a bug fix is in the works and will be released “soon”.

At long last, I did a proper assessment of our boats protection against galvanic corrosion. Zincs on the propellor shaft, propellor, bow thruster and hull (7) are all in place (and have been for years) with the aim of protecting the dissimilar metals immersed in seawater from galvanic corrosion. I borrowed a silver chloride reference cell from SeaPower and checked at strategic points (swim platform, propellor shaft, bow thruster motor frame and -ve DC bus. All readings were in the range -925mV to -955mV, which indicates that the protective anodes are well placed and functioning.

I wrote this letter to NOONSITE (a respected cruiser resource site) detailing our refit experience in New Zealand. I’ve written material for NOONSITE before, but this time, with so much money and effort expended, I felt compelled to share our experience with other cruisers. We estimate that we’ve spent over $50K in maintenance and repairs (not berthing costs, haul-out fees or even groceries).

The harbour entrance at Opua is easy to navigate, and quite pretty.

We were in Opua last year when we arrived. We know several few hiking trails. There are lots of yacht services here, but unfortunately – NO bank machine and NO grocery store, just a little corner store. There are a couple of well stocked chandleries though. There is also NO bus service to any local town. I can’t recommend staying here for more than a few weeks. It is really suited for the locals, who all go home at night, just not for foreign yachties.

One day, we did take the car ferry over to the Russell side, and hitched a ride into the town of Russel (skipping the 5 km walk). We discovered the oldest church in New Zealand is in Russell.

The main street is bustling with commerce, and if you’re on the lookout for a Christmas bikini, this is the place to come.

I figure this gnarly old tree is one of the Russell sites.

We walked around, saw the remainder of the sites and then took a passenger ferry back over to Paihai. We’ve been to Paihai several times before, but took the opportunity to walk about the town some more, and then have a “big hamburger” lunch at Alfresco’s restaurant. Alfresco’s offers to give people a ride home if they have lunch or dinner in their restaurant – great for us. They drove us “home” to Opua afterwards.

We have met many cruisers who are now returning from their winter up in the islands (Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia for example). One couple is Monty and Margie on SV WHISTLER, a Canadian built, Canadian flagged catamaran. Monty and Margie are a wonderful, upbeat couple who sail during the Canadian summer (in the South Pacific winter) and ski during the Canadian winter (the South Pacific summer, which is also cyclone season), in Whistler of course.

They just returned from Fiji and this is what was left of their mainsail. They are looking for a good sailmaker!

It is spring here, so I am taking antihistamines and Diane is wondering at the beautiful flowers.

30 September 2016 – Whangarei New Zealand

We’re back after our nearly three month “holiday” in Canada. For the first time, I realized that our “nearly annual” trek back home was a lot like the Christmas holiday period. Why? Because I’m on leave, sedentary, eating a lot, and visiting other people (most of whom are still working and haven’t yet hit retirement). This, I reckon, at least on me, has the effect of fattening me up, just like Christmas-time!

When we left on 14 June, our “bottom paint” job was still underway. Its now done, but unfortunately – more costly than we expected. The actual cost for the total job came out to more than $ 25K and by way of comparison, back in September 2008, we had the same work done (with the same materials) while in Canada for $17K. To “rub salt in the wound”, Diane learned from a Facebook friend in Australia that her and her husband had just done nearly the same work on their steel Roberts 53, at a cost of only $4K. They did all the labour themselves, including operating the sandblaster and applying paint. In retrospect, its really unfair to compare these costs though because we used 3M epoxy and Coppercoat, both premium and expensive paints. The actual paint used was two coats of 3M EA9 (first black, then grey) and then 6 sprayed coats of Coppercoat (24 kits). Bottom line – I suppose we’ll try to do it ourselves next time.

I was told before the job commenced that the sandblaster operator was very precise, but it turned out he wasn’t as good as he thought he was, and he left a jagged edge in many areas on the white boot-stripe.

I decided to make the repairs to the boot stripe at the waterline on my own.

A few hours after we returned to the boat a few weeks ago, I discovered that our step-down transformer (240V – 120V) refused to start up. Of course, it was not plugged in the whole time that we were away, but shortly after we returned, I did plug it in and then it stopped after only an hour. Finding a replacement was a little challenging, but we did get a Victron Auto-transformer, 3600W 240V-120V through Snow Brothers, who in turn got it from the NZ distributer Lusty and Blundell. I wired it up in about an hour but then spent the following week troubleshooting it, because I couldn’t get it to work, at all. After the Australian importer and the Netherlands manufacturer ignored my emails – I went back to the NZ distributer – Lusty and Blundell, only to discover that they had supplied the wrong printed manual. A few hours after receiving the correct manual, I moved one wire and presto – it worked like a charm.

One of the jobs that I wanted to do while the boat was out of the water was to replace the rudder shaft seal (Tides Marine), something that I first installed in 1999, 18 years ago. These things do dry out, and I did notice a bit of salt water in the area more than a year ago. The components are under our bed in the aft cabin, so access and light is pretty good.

Replacing the seal took about a day, with all the other bits that had to be removed to get access to it, but in doing so – I discovered two other things that needed attention: I took the hydraulic steering cylinder in to get all the seals replaced, and I had a machine shop manufacture a new bearing for the tiller arm. None of this work cost much, and it was easy to do it in Whangarei.

This photo shows the end of the tiller arm, and the bearing that the cylinder acts on.

Next thing on the list was to “start-up” our refrigerator. This was a Technautics holding plate system, bought 6 years ago when we were in Florida. Over the years, startup has been a bit difficult and several times we’ve even left it running when we’ve been away. This, by the way, is the same fridge that quit while we were on our 24 day passage from Galapagos to French Polynesia last year. Well, to make a long story short – the fridge didn’t cool down, after running for 16 hours – and we had little patience to “nurse it along”. I put a bit of gas in it, and then did it again, but still no joy – so we decided to throw it out and start with a new system. This time though, we’ve gone with an evaporator plate (rather than a holding plate) and a Danfoss BD50 in an Isotherm 2017, air cooled 12V system. I’ve installed it myself. In the past, we’ve had two different holding plate systems, but since they’ve been powered by a 12V compressor and not an engine driven compressor, I don’t think the efficiency is really any different than an evaporator plate (which our built-in freezer uses).

One of the success stories has to be the overhaul of our Autoprop propellor. I turned it over to Q-Marine in Auckland and they changed the bearings while we were in Canada, something that it was in need of. It was definitely cheaper than sending it all the way back to the UK for maintenance.

Sometimes when you take things apart, its good to notice other things that although they haven’t yet failed – they need attention.

The only thing keeping us “on dry land” at the moment is our steering system. It has to be perfect before we launch (steering is a critical system) and after reassembly, it has presented a minor leak and occasionally behaves as though there is a bit of air in the lines. More testing and more attention is required!

14 June 2016 – Auckland New Zealand

We made another visit to Diane relatives in Hamilton a few weeks ago. This time, we met not only her aunt Dora but also her son Raymond and wife Julie. Raymond drives a concrete truck and Julie does quilting. Dora, of course, is retired.

After considering all the options for the past 6 months, we finally decided to haul the boat at Port Whangarei Marine Centre. This place has asphalt surfaces, a large travel-lift, clean showers and toilets and a large communal kitchen area. Its not only the best haul-out available, but they also had some good deals ongoing.

We’ve had Coppercoat on the bottom for the past 8 years. We’ve been very pleased with its performance (augmented with ultrasonic), but believe that since we’re in New Zealand, the time has come for new paint and to “clean up the bottom”. After lifting, the bottom looked pretty good actually, but there were patches (where there are internal frames in the keel for example) where marine growth concentrated. These areas I normally scrape clean every few months, when in a warmer climate. Here are three “before pressure washing” photos.

I especially like to point out to the “non-believers” the effect of putting a bag on your prop. In the first week of December 2015, I braved the frigid waters of the Town Basin, and put a black plastic garbage bag over the prop, tied lightly with a thin cord. The afternoon that we were motoring out of our berth headed to the haul-out yard, we “busted” through the bag simply by putting the motor in gear and driving forward. What you can see in the photo is the remnants of the bag just forward of the prop. Note, in particular, how clean the prop is. It is a stark contrast to what I typically see from our friends boats, who never use a bag when they’re stationary for months at a time.

After the lift, I authorized the increase in pressure from 2500 to 5000 psi with the pressure washer – and that was extremely effective in removing growth, and even removed paint, exposing bare steel in several areas.

After consideration, we decided that the best way forward was to authorize wet sandblasting, fresh epoxy and fresh coppercoat. We had always planned to “wet sand” the hull, but this new approach is not only going to consume a few more maintenance dollars (wet sandblasting instead of wet sanding, and now an epoxy base plus the coppercoat antifouling), but will ensure a stable base. Unfortunately, the work was still ongoing when we left the boat on 13 June.

A few days before we left, we noticed that Circa Marine launched another one of its Steve Dashew designed aluminum boats.

Diane and I “have left the boat and the boat yard for a 3 month holiday” and are en-route: Auckland to Hong Kong (where we’ll stay for 3 days), Hong Kong to Amsterdam (where we’ll stay in Rotterdam for 5 days), Amsterdam to Montreal – and then on to Ottawa. We’ll centre ourselves in Ottawa, but intend to visit (in no particular order) Kingston, Cornwall, Timmins, Sudbury, London-Waterloo area, Montreal, New Brunswick and Halifax. We’re really looking forward to seeing family and friends!

11 May 2016 – Whangarei New Zealand (Town Basin Marina

A few weeks ago, Diane and I, together with Reneta (SV Renehara) and her “couch-surfers” Lisa (from China) and Adeena (from South Africa) took a scenic drive to the Whangarei Heights and climbed Mount Manaia – one of a cluster of majestic, jagged, bush-covered hills overlooking the entrance to Whangarei harbour. These are the intrepid hikers (less me, who took the photo) at the start of the walk/climb.

The trail has been upgraded in recent years and includes many flights of steps, and some care needs to be taken by anyone attempting to reach the very top. It can be a little dangerous at times, and it was certainly a cardio-vascular workout. This very short section of stairs is just the start…..

Here we are at the top, where there were very impressive views over Bream Bay from the summit, 403 metres above sea-level.

This area is of special significance to the indigenous Māori who will not live in the shadow of the mountain. Legend has it that Hautatu, a chief who lived on the opposite side of the harbour entrance, crossed the water and was chasing after his wife Pito and two children who had been taken captive by Manaia, the paramount chief of Whangarei. All five were struck by lightning and turned into the rock outcrops visible at the summit. It was a lot easier on the way down, but still my knees took a pummelling.

It was a welcome break to see a typical NZ beach at the shore side later in the day.

Our boat projects are coming to a close. I finally finished painting the deck and raised cabin surfaces – all done while we were at dock-side. Diane made these “see-through” cockpit flaps, one for each side – secured to the hard top or bimini. These side flaps can replace the normal ones that we use when at dock or at anchor, when we need shade.

However, the temperature has dropped so that it is about 21/22C at daytime and down to 9-14C at night. Therefore, we don’t want to sit in the shade anymore, its just too cold. We also think that we can sail with these flaps up, providing us with protection from cold water and wind, as (eventually) we sail North back to the tropics.

We have made some progress on our Code Zero installation. This is a light air sail, replacing our ParaSailor spinnaker that we only used four times in 7 years. This Code Zero is on a flexible furler with a continuous line. The sail is normally bagged and stored inside the boat, and only brought out for passage, because it has no UV protection. When we’re at the yard next month, we’ll have the pulpit modified to give a little more clearance between the Code Zero, the jib sail and the pulpit.

Another item on my checklist has been to replenish my stocks of oil filters, diesel fuel filters, air filters and motor oil. Since I don’t know what availability there will be as we move further West, I took the opportunity to stock up at Filter HQ, a NZ shop that specializes in sourcing off-brand filters at a reduced price. Now that we’re so far from home, the brands are no longer Purolator, Fram, or Wix – but rather Griffin, Donaldson, Sakura and Full. Instead of these filters being made in the US, Canada or Mexico – they’re made in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia (who knew?).

A few weeks ago, when the night-time temperature dropped to only 9C, I was hastened to check to see if our forced air, diesel furnace still worked. Its a Volvo / Ardic model, last fired up seven years ago when we were transiting the St Lawrence River in Canada. As expected it did NOT fire up. After some trouble-shooting, I speculated that a new glow plug was required. I ordered a new one from Sweden, and then after replacement, it worked very well, producing great clouds of blue smoke, much to the delight of a dozen spectators from the dock. Unfortunately, the aluminum exhaust hose had also developed several interior pinhole leaks (which was unpleasant to say the least) and it took me a few days to source replacement materials to make that right. Now the heater is working well, but the temperature is high enough that we don’t yet need it.

Another thing we did is to replace our “lost” stern anchor (left on the bottom at Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas because I couldn’t retrieve it) with a NZ made Manson aluminum Racing Anchor. Its just as light and functional as the Fortress anchors, but cheaper to buy. Here it is stowed on our stern, on a new purpose built bracket.

Another repair of note was our water heater. Our four year old Kuuma water heater (made in Thailand) started dripping water, seeping through the tank or the seams. This was not a connection problem. I reluctantly decided that for ease of installation, I’d prefer the same model, as it would be surely an easy fit. However, I did some investigation as to WHY this water heater failed after only four years. The heater tank is aluminum, and so are our water tanks. I use carbon filters to prevent chlorine from entering the tanks, therefore the water heater should have benefited from that choice as well. I discovered that the manufacturer sells a magnesium anode “to prolong the lifespan of the aluminum tank”. This is an extra $ 20, not included in the $ 400 tank purchase – so I bought one. In fact, I bought two, one to replace this one in four years. Lets see if it works.

There is a really good FM radio station that I like to listen here on 91.6MHz. We’ve got two ways to listen to local broadcast FM radio: with our built-in “marinized” FM radio, the BOSS MR637u (that is connected to our cockpit speakers) or our portable SonyRDP-XF100ip. The BOSS radio scans for radio stations in 200KHz increments, on the odd numbers, i.e. 91.5, 91.7 and 91.9 — it won’t pickup 91.6MHz. The Sony scans in 100KHz increments, and it will pickup 91.5 and 91.6MHz. I’ve discovered a set of international standards that are in use. The frequency of an FM broadcast station (more strictly its assigned nominal center frequency) is usually an exact multiple of 100 kHz. In most of South Korea, the Americas, the Philippines and the Caribbean, only odd multiples are used. In some parts of Europe, Greenland and Africa, only even multiples are used. In the UK odd or even are used. In Italy, multiples of 50 kHz are used. New Zealand seems to be following the European standard, surprise-surprise. Therefore, after checking the antenna connections and actually buying a replacement FM radio antenna a few days ago, I finally figured out that our BOSS FM radio will never pickup New Zealand radio stations – because its another standard! We bought it when in Trinidad three years ago. Its a good thing that we also have the portable Sony model, that will pickup all FM radio signals, anywhere.

We’re still at the Town Basin, but we’ll be heading to Port Whangarei Marine Centre on 1 June to haul-out. After nearly eight years with Coppercoat bottom paint, we figure its time to fully re-coat. Plus, we have a bit of “bottom” work to do anyway, so we’ll do it all at that time. Since we’ve been stationary for nearly six months, we expect the bottom will be very “fouled” also.

We’ve now been in NZ for nearly six months. While completing the “end of season” survey for the marine association a few weeks ago, we were asked to describe three main things that Whangarei Marine Group might be able to improve on. We cited these three points:

We lacked awareness of ACC and other medical agencies available to visitors to NZ. Some months after arriving here, we discovered that the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) provides comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover for all New Zealand residents and visitors to New Zealand. This means that if you’re a visitor, and you “slip on a banana peel”, your medical care is taken care of. On the other hand, it also means that you’re unable to sue – which we’re not concerned about.

We found the aggressive attitude of motor vehicle drivers to pedestrian traffic unnerving and unique. Diane and I have lived in Europe and travelled extensively throughout much of the world, but we have never been in a place where we were so shocked at the attitude of drivers to pedestrians. I’ve discovered that one in nine fatalities on the roads involve pedestrians and that pedestrian injuries and death caused by motor vehicle accidents cost the country $290 Million NZD each year. We approached the local Tourist Hub, the Police Station and City Council about this issue in search of clarification regarding “pedestrian rights”. What we found is that unless you’re crossing at a defined zebra crossing, or a traffic light controlled intersection – beware. Motor vehicles “own” the road and pedestrians have no right to be on it, or crossing it. Be very careful. We found that the aggressive driver attitude prevails in large shopping area parking lots as well, and you have to be very careful walking so that you don’t get run down by a car. Almost every week some driver honks his/her horn or shakes their fist at us, even though we would never even step out in front of a car expecting to gain the right of way. We found that NZ drivers have a unique, unexpected and unsettling attitude towards pedestrians.

We found that the high cost of many tourist attractions are often unaffordable to full-time cruisers. The basic entry cost, for example, to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set is $110 NZD per person. This is only about a two hour tour and does not include the cost of “getting there”. By way of comparison, a one-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida is now $105 USD, up from $99 USD. What I’m saying is that NZ gets a lot of tourists and the attractions costs are high, together with the costs of hotels, motels, rental cars, etc. We found NZ to be a little expensive for “long term, or continual” touring. Its one thing to fly in to a country for a few weeks with a “bag of money”, but its another to stick it out for months on end as we tend to do ……In truth, we really like New Zealand, but personally, I won’t want to stay here (long-term) for three reasons:

  1. My knees and elbows are rough. My skin dries out in Canada, mostly in the winter time. In the seven years since we’ve left Canada, I’ve found that the best climate for my skin is one where I can have a dip in warm salt water every day.
  2. My joints ache of arthritis, particularly my knees and my neck. Again, I found that a climate that has a daily temperature of 25-28C is one best for these old joints.
  3. Seasonal allergies. I’ve suffered from plant and tree pollen allergies all my life. In the seven years that we’ve been cruising, my allergies never bothered me at all, unless I went back to Ottawa in the summer, or lived in New Zealand. Itchy eyes, sniffling nose – no thank you, not if I can avoid it.

17 March 2016 – Whangarei New Zealand (Town Basin Marina)

On 8 March, we took a well needed break from the paint fumes on the boat (I was working in the cockpit for nearly two weeks) and visited “The Abbey Caves” just 4 km from the city centre.

The Abbey Caves are completely undeveloped, unguided and the posted sign ominously says “Enter at your own risk”. There are three caves open to the public, but we only had time to visit one cave, so far.

Most of our trek through the cave was on firm level footing in ankle to thigh deep water, but occasionally we had to scramble up over boulders, stalagmites or duck under stalactites bearing down from the ceiling. In the Organ Cave (the largest of the caves), we were very impressed with the high ceilings and stalactites which looked similar to church organ pipes. It is pitch dark in these caves, and you’re well advised to enter with a good headlight as well as a powerful hand carried light. I carried a strong SCUBA diving night light.

We were treated to a “starry night of glow worms” nearly everywhere in the cave. So, what is a glow worm? Glow worms, that we have only seen so far in New Zealand (never before in other countries caves) are the larva of NZ’s most famous fly. The life cycle of a glow worm is about a year from larva to fly and during this period it casts the luminous glow for which it is named. Looking at a ceiling of glow worms is like gazing at stars on a clear night. It is totally beautiful and surreal – and we’ve never seen anything quite like it. After a Wikipedia search, it seems that caves with glow worms do exist in other countries, but we’ve just never come across them before.

Taking photos inside the caves produced some interesting results. We happened to be with a woman who had a very good camera and was experienced in taking photos in low light situations. She left the shutter on for 20 seconds (and we were very very still) and then whipped around a flashlight for about 5 seconds providing limited light. This produced the best results.

Outside the caves, we found a tree with trumpet flowers blossoming.

On other walkabouts near Whangarei, I’ve also managed to take a number of photos of birds, no of which I can name, but many of which might be unique to NZ.

I’m still painting, but the end is in sight. In a few days time, I’ll start working my way around the perimeter, painting the toe rail. Its long, but not wide – and does require some upside down positioning.

16 February 2016 – Whangarei New Zealand (Town Basin Marina)

To get a break from marina routine and boat work, we took a day off and drove down to Gulf Harbour Marina on the outskirts of Auckland, less than two hours South of Whangarei. Essentially, we were there to pay a visit to our friends Christopher and Christine on SV Scintilla. While there, we enjoyed the scenery and nature of Shakespeare Regional Park. At the entrance to one of the protected areas of the park, there was a “station” where you were required to chemically clean the soles of your feet, so you didn’t bring in any foreign pests. We’ve seen this on many walks and nature trails throughout the North Island.

We made a day visit to Kiwi House North, only a short car ride from downtown Whangarei (we went by car with Cheri from SV Grasshopper). Kiwi North is set on 25 hectares of rolling, volcanic farmland, forest and bush, with views that overlook the city of Whangarei and the Whangarei Heads. The site features a museum, a nocturnal kiwi house, many displays featuring indigenous creatures, a gift shop, and several unique Victorian heritage buildings. At one point, we were entertained by Morris, a talking bird, who is so friendly he followed us around and even hopped up on Cheri’s shoulder.

On the same site are many Heritage Park Clubs open for people to take part in their hobbies that include: model railroads, vintage farm machinery, steam or stationary engines, amateur radio and vintage cars. Here is a clever sign.

We’ve been told that NZ geckos are unique, in that they give birth to live young and don’t lay eggs.

We were particularly interested in the Kiwi birds. Kiwis are small flightless birds native to New Zealand, and about the size of a chicken. Kiwi are by far the smallest living ratites (which also consist of ostriches, emus, rheas, and cassowaries), and lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any species of bird in the world (the egg is about 20% of the weight of the mother). They are very shy, and nocturnal creatures and I won’t claim to have seen one in the wild, just these two in the Kiwi House. You won’t see this bird on any restaurant menu, but if you did, I’d NOT recommend the wings (there is just a little stub of a nail, about the size of my baby fingernail), NOT recommend the breast (they don’t really have a breast like a chicken or a turkey) but DO recommend the legs (their legs are large and very strong). The kiwi is the national symbol of New Zealand, and the association is so strong that the term Kiwi is used internationally to refer to New Zealanders. This is what a Kiwi bird looks like, followed by a skeleton of a Kiwi bird with an egg.

Back at the marina, this Fountaine Pajot catamaran “limped in”, with serious rigging damage. Apparently, the Captain drove into a piling in the river, causing the rig to collapse. This is serious damage, at least $100K. We’ve seen this boat (SV Toucan) several times in the past year as we crossed the South Pacific, but we don’t know the owners.

We are now dockside (and not rafted) and when the tide is low, our keel is stuck in the mud by about a foot or so. The boat still rocks a little from side to side, but you can feel it stuck in place. It could be a challenge getting it clean when we eventually haul out.

Now this boat is much more seriously dug into the mud than we’ve ever been.

We’ve also noticed a large number of these type of vehicles here in NZ, a two door car with a box – similar to a pickup truck but with a lighter suspension. A long time ago, I remember seeing these in Canada, I think GM made an El Camino – but they were never very popular. Here, they are common. Cars are not manufactured in NZ, this one looks like it comes from Korea or China.

We also used the local transport system, and took a bus ($3 per person) up to Whangarei Falls, and then walked back with Cheri. This was a really good walk, most of it “down hill” but through forests and alongside the river. There was even a canopy walk where you could walk well above the forest floor.

One of the items on my “to-do” list has been to have the diesel tanks cleaned. I’ve never put any biocide in the diesel, and most of the time have filtered the diesel at the point of entry. However, over time, dirt does come in, somehow. This is a photo of the aft tank, looking down through the inspection lid with only about 15” of diesel. Dirt, of some kind, has obviously settled on the bottom. There is also dirt evident on the weld seams and pickup tubes. This tank was newly built and installed only 6 years ago and it is apparently very clean – and I want to keep it that way.

available to do this job. I do try to only put in clean diesel and regularly “polish” the diesel in the tanks, but stuff does adhere to the walls that can cause big problems if it breaks free while underway (in big wa ves, for example) and clogs up the filters – the engine might shut down. To clean my tanks, I hired Tony with DCAPS (Diesel Cleaning and Polishing Services). Tony setup his powerful pump and filter in the cockpit. He first sucked all the diesel from the forward tank to the aft tank, and then brushed the sides and bottom, and then repeated the process to clean out the aft tank.

Tony used a very large (vacuum cleaner bag size) filter of only 1 micron in size. I have been normally using filters of 10, 5 and 2 microns. What he took out of the filter at the end of the process astonished me, and looked a lot like mud. It feels good to have this dirt out of the tanks, although admittedly, a little was left behind because it was too well adhered (like varnish) to the bottom. Maybe we’ll do it all again in 5 years?

Diane has been stripping and refinishing hand-holds and trim inside the boat, and I’m still working on repainting the white decks.

27 January 2016 – Whangarei New Zealand (Town Basin Marina)

We’ve now been in New Zealand for just over two months. On arrival in Opua, we were granted a three month stay, ending 17 February. I completed a visa extension application and requested a subsequent four month visa, and this has been granted to 17 June 2016, for both of us. The documentation I was required to submit included: passport photos, accompanying cover letter, form INZ1111, copies of marriage certificate, copies of boat registration, copies of boat insurance, bank statements and an explanation of why we wanted to stay that long. It wasn’t difficult, but does ensure that we are permitted to stay here for an extended period. The boat itself is permitted to stay up to 2 years before the Customs people want significant import duties to be paid. We are planning to fly back to Canada for the June/July/August period. Our next “immediate” destination is Australia, but its too soon to say when. Our next “goal” is to be in Darwin or Cairns for July 2017 to take part in annual rallies to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Since my last post, I’ve removed and re-installed five of the seven deck hatches. This is quite a tedious process since each hatch frame has to be “lifted” off the steel deck (each hatch is fixed to the deck with about 30 screws and a tenacious polyurethane bedding compound) and the steel has to be scraped “clean”, coated with CorrosionX Rust-Reconverter, then five coats of two-part epoxy and three coats of two-part polyurethane paint. I’ve also painted the aluminum hatch frames with 2-part polyurethane or Nyalic. I’ve also repainted the raised cabin, side deck and fore deck areas and things are looking pretty good. I’m probably about 50% done. One day at a time …

This is the first serious attempt I’ve made at repainting the deck in more than 4 years. Sure, I’ve done “touch-ups” but I haven’t come across any really good anti-rust paint for years. The best anti-rust paint I’ve used in the past has been Petitt Rust-Loc Steel Primer or POR-15, neither of which I’ve seen on the shelves in recent history. I’m really impressed with the Corrosion X Rust-Reconverter and will make sure I pick up more. Now I’m paying the price for lack of attention to the deck because I’ve got to dig down at all those little rust spots to get at problem areas. The most troublesome areas surely have been those where I had used Awl-Grip 2-part fairing compound. Why? It is because I used Awl-Grip fairing compound (polyester based) over epoxy paint – and although you can put epoxy over polyester, you should never put polyester over epoxy. It probably has to do with the different rates of expansion and contraction. Thankfully, there is no fairing compound used on the hull below the waterline and only a very small amount above the waterline. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize foresee this issue when using Awl-Grip fairing compound (which is an expensive product) on the deck 17 years ago!

Here’s a cultural oddity that I’ve found in New Zealand – people walking around barefoot. In my estimation, it seems that about 5-10% of the population (of all ages) walks around barefoot. They drive a car to the grocery store, park, and then walk inside with bare feet. There are none of the North American signs saying “no shirt, no shoes – no service” to be found. Inside the stores, kids, old men and women – lots of people are walking around barefoot. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wonder what they do when they go home, wash their feet at the entrance?

Apparently, its quite a tradition for Kiwis to go barefoot in the summer. Google “barefoot in New Zealand” and see for yourself.

We haven’t ventured far from the boat for weeks, since we’ve both been consumed with projects, me primarily with painting, and Diane with fabricating a new mainsail cover and two new side rain covers. Diane found a local Bernina dealer and brought her sewing machine in for a well-needed service. The only problem though was that her machine is 110V and the technician had to come to our boat for “part 2” of the service, where he could actually plug it in for testing. Diane, in particular, has been slaving over the sewing machine for weeks making these things, and they’re very well constructed.

We’ve gone on a few walkabouts, to see what is within within a short distance of our environment.

I know that our friends back home in Canada have been complaining about the price of cauliflower, something like $ 10 in the grocery store. Here, we tend to consume fresh vegetables that are in season and locally grown. In the Pac-n-Save across the street, huge cauliflower sells for $ 4.99 and broccoli for $ 1.99. Both are locally grown and large in size.

I’m enjoying drinking Australian made Ginger Beer (produced with or without alcohol) and Lemon, Lime and Bitters – by Bundaberg. $ 14.99 for a ten-pack seems a little pricey but the bottles are large and the products are very tasty.

Also across the street is the Mad Butcher and they regularly have sales on meat (lamb, pork, beef) and dairy products. I still don’t understand why locally produced NZ cheese is less than half the price of Canadian cheese (on the shelf in Canada).

Here’s a flash back to about a month ago. When we were driving South to visit Diane’s aunt in Hamilton, my leg wound (one of 5 wounds, this one had 4 stitches, biopsied for skin cancer) opened up. I was driving, on the left side of the road, but seated on the right side of the car. Diane was looking for something in her bag to augment the 2 (of 4) broken stitches and found an Apple decal. She sliced it up using a pair of scissors and quickly produced a make-shift series of “steri-strips” to close up the wound. That is my practical wife!

Since we are in the NZ summer, the weather has been pretty good, mostly in the 24-30C range during the daytime. However, we do get periods of rain that last for several days at a time, and this impacts on the painting project. Today is a rainy day, so that’s why I’m blogging.