Monday, July 29, 2013

Fish On!

Just before sunset yesterday evening, we caught a fish that was in the tuna family---but it was only a juvenile, still quite alive, and we released it. Knowing there were tuna in the area, I had my line in the water early this morning. Around mid-morning, I looked at the line and it appeared taut. I tugged on the line: Something tugged back! This fish was a fighter! Unfortunately, we are not very sporting when it comes to procuring dinner, and Patrick gaffed the fish when I brought it alongside the boat: The fish lost, and Silhouette had landed our first albacore! And what a beautiful albacore it was. The fish was a nice size, and we ended up with about a dozen albacore steaks after we cleaned it. What an exciting start to our day! We will post a picture when we have an internet connection again.

Today was a banner day in a number of other ways. Shortly after catching the fish, we saw three whales to starboard. There appeared to be two humpback whales traveling together, along with a third and different kind of whale. The third whale was about the size of an orca, but it had a long, slender dorsal fin and was all black.

The temperature also noticeably warmed up today by just by a few degrees. We can use one less blanket on the pilot berth and wear one fewer layer on night watches. We're not in the tropics yet, but we can tell we're getting there. This passage has actually been kind to us from the weather perspective. I expected a frigid, wet passage after those last frosty cold snaps in Whangarei. It's been cool, certainly; but with a layer of long underwear, a layer of fleece, and our foul weather gear at night, we've been comfortably warm, and we haven't needed to run the diesel heater in the cabin. There's been very little rain so far (we've had only one really snotty day.)

When we checked out in Marsden Cove, the Customs officer told us that on a passage to or from New Zealand you can choose when you want to have your bad weather: at the beginning, the middle, or the end. It looks like ours will be at the end, as a low is predicted to develop at 30 S, just as we approach Rarotonga. In some ways, it might be easier to deal with bad weather when we are ALMOST THERE.

We've seen three freighters and noted a fourth on the AIS, which passed too far south of us to see. There is a lot of shipping traffic inbound for New Zealand, and we're glad we keep a watch.

We've been back on a beat the past couple of days, with variable progress of 3.5 to 5 knots, depending on the sea state. But tonight, we're maintaining a boat speed of 5 to 7 knots on a beam reach. Last night, I saw half a dozen meteors, but tonight the moon and stars are completely obscured by cloud cover as Silhouette plunges headlong through the inky night.

At dinner, we feasted on albacore seared in olive oil and garlic, along with a crunchy red cabbage salad chock-a-block full of pepper, cucumber, radish, tomato, carrot, and green onion. Life is good on the sailing vessel Silhouette.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Zealand to Rarotonga Day 9

We have been underway for over a week, and only today have we moved north of the latitude of Whangarei, New Zealand, from whence we departed. At last we are heading northeast, on our course for Rarotonga. We have made some of our easting and are currently at 170 W; Rarotonga is at approximately 160 W.

We finally gained some momentum on this passage when we stopped our descent into the southern latitudes to avoid a large low pressure system and started heading east. 39 degrees 16 minutes was our farthest point south. (High latitudes, I will be back for you someday!) Then, we screamed along for a couple of days---first, in westerlies; then, in southwesterlies---on a beam to broad reach, finally seeing Silhouette's hull speed of seven knots and beyond (when surfing down waves), and maintaining a respectable average boat speed of five to six knots. On July 24 and 25, we recorded daily runs of 115 and 131 nautical miles. Our best mileage day ever on Silhouette so far has been 158 nm, so those runs represent good progress.

On July 26, we recorded 118 nm, but that was with the help of the motor. We lost the wind and motored, then motor-sailed under the headsail, until the wind built up enough to raise the main again.

We are currently under sail alone, but we are back on a beat, moving along at under four knots. It's going to be a long passage to Rarotonga. If we are able to keep up our boat speed, we can be there in as little as nine days, but at this pace, it could take two weeks.

There isn't much to remark on besides the sailing. After eight months without making a passage, it took us longer than usual to get back into the passage rhythm. We were both very tired at first; but then the rhythm suddenly kicked in, and we have fallen into an easy routine of watches, chores, and naps. We haven't caught any fish yet---although we've tried---but on most days, we haven't been going fast enough. There has been a remarkable absence of marine life: We haven't seen any dolphins or whales, and there is only a small amount of bioluminescence in our wake at night. We do have an avian escort of various types of shearwaters and storm petrels, but the New Zealand bird book I picked up in the cruiser's book exchange at the marina hasn't helped me in identifying them.

We've been eating well during the calm weather and while our fresh food stores have lasted: beef stroganoff with fresh mushrooms and sour cream over noodles, accompanied by a tossed salad; baked chicken served with quinoa and steamed green beans; roasted pork and root vegetables from the farmer's market; potato-fennel soup and homemade biscuits. When it's been rougher, we've pulled out the D'aucy brand canned lentil stew leftover from French Polynesia, or the lamb-based Chunky soups that Campbell's markets to the Kiwis. We've put away a couple of pans of brownies on night watches. But now, our fresh meat is gone and we hope for a fish, meanwhile devising meals like tonight's: a canned chicken pasta in a white sauce with fresh zucchini (courgettes), canned mushrooms, garlic, and thyme.

What can I say about this passage that I haven't already said about other passages? One particular feature of the past couple of days I could mention are the broad, long period ocean swells that roll along lazily under the surface of the sea like muscles rippling under the skin of a stretching beast. The sea doesn't seem to be in a hurry to wake up from its present nap, but when it does---look out!

I learned today that there is an island in the Seychelles named Silhouette. (I have been reading "Always a Distant Anchorage" by Hal Roth, which chronicles Whisper's journey---the Roth's boat---across the Indian Ocean.) Our Silhouette had four previous owners, and somewhere along the way, her name was changed from "Maria C." to "Silhouette." As far as we know, she'd never been beyond Hawaii: until our voyage. Does Silhouette's name reflect the distant dream of a previous owner?

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It Looks Like a Passage

Two days ago, at 6 a.m., I suddenly felt THAT wind on my cheek---10 knots true!---and joyously set the headsail and stopped the engine. I was proceeding to engage the wind vane when Patrick came up on deck to relieve me of my watch. A couple of hours later when I woke up from my nap, I asked him who had replaced the floating platform we'd been on with a boat?! There was a discernible ocean swell, and Silhouette had a definite roll to her motion. We were on a sailboat! We sailed all that day under a full main and jib on a broad to beam reach in light northwesterly breezes.

But sometime after dinner, the wind dropped down to between two and four knots. The ocean once again turned into the bathtub of somebody's imagination, the surface of which was only disturbed by the plastic boat floating in it. We had to motor through the night. At 2:30 a.m., it was Patrick's turn to feel that breeze on his cheek, and we set sail again. We sailed all through yesterday and last night, and it finally started to look and feel like a passage.

We've had several milestones. Yesterday morning, I saw my first South Island/Southern Ocean albatross! Three of them accompanied the boat for a couple of hours. We crossed the International Dateline and are back in the western longitudes. Today, we crossed 39 degrees South latitude. This is the farthest south we've ever been on Silhouette, and Patrick says it's as far as we're going. I had hoped to set one foot inside 40 degrees S, but there are some nasty seas and big winds developing at about 42 S that we will endeavor to avoid.

We haven't found those westerlies yet. Indeed, our progress continues to be extremely slow, because we have been hard on the wind, beating into southeasterlies. (However, had we not diverted south, we would be beating into 35 knot head winds, so our progress wouldn't be much faster.) At least we have made some easting. Our average boat speed on this trip has been somewhere around 3.5-4.0 knots, and it seems excruciatingly slow at times. I am longing to see a hull speed of 6.0 knots. The wind is supposed to lighten up, clock around to the north and then to the west, and we are supposed to have a day of sailing in strong westerlies before encountering a front whose southwesterly tail winds we will ride back to the north, away from the big swells of the Southern Ocean. But so far, nothing that has been forecasted his actually happened, and today we found ourselves in 3-4 meter swells beating against 18-25 knots of wind.

While it is psychologically demoralizing to be traveling in the direction opposite to where you're actually going, I find that it is much better when you're sailing! And it's starting to look like a passage around here...

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Going South to go North

A day and a half out of New Zealand, we are making slow progress. Now is the time when we want to be tucking miles away behind us, yet we are moving almost imperceptibly---motoring in fuel conservation mode at four knots---on an impossibly calm sea. The biggest wave around is Silhouette's bow wave.

We got to sail more than expected on our first day out in light winds. We motored out of the harbor, but by the time we got to the Hen and Chicks, we could raise full the main and jib, and we had several hours of peaceful sailing at four knots in a light southwest wind. It was lovely to be underway again and hear the calm sssh of the water against the hull. By evening, the wind had lightened and we alternately motor sailed and sailed throughout the night.

Today, the wind had lightened even more. Since the wind speed was a far cry from the 12-16 knots forecasted in our voyage plan, Patrick requested some new GRIB files over the radio. They showed us then passing through a windless hole towards a new powerful low developing over the Kermadecs, sending 20...25...30 knot head winds (easterlies) our way. We requested an update from the weather router we are using, who advised us to go south to avoid the easterlies. We are now heading SE towards 40S, so it looks like we may get a taste of those westerlies at 40S after all.

The most exciting thing that has happened so far is seeing a giant meteor (or piece of space garbage) burn up as it fell into the ocean.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Escape Velocity

If all goes as planned, we will be leaving New Zealand today around mid-day! Our plans took a turn for the sudden this week when we changed them from moving downriver to Marsden Cove on Thursday with no specific departure date, to moving to Marsden Cove on Wednesday with an intended departure date of Friday. A weather window has suddenly appeared for Silhouette to start her journey east. 

It's a little unsettling, because leaving port on a Friday is supposed to bring bad luck, but it appears we have an chance to wean ourselves from the north island without encountering one of the lows that roll through here at this time for year for three or four days.  

Our plans have changed since our arrival in New Zealand eight months ago. While we were then contemplating returning across the South Pacific via the Australs, Pitcairn, and Easter Island---and then cruising the Chilean channels---that sail plan has changed (at least for the time being.) We will now be working our way slowly back to the Pacific Northwest via the Cook Islands and Hawaii. We plan to overwinter in Hawaii and return to Seattle the following season via southeast Alaska and British Columbia. 

On Wednesday, we moved downriver from Town Basin to Marsden Cove. Our neighbors Hardy and Litara helped us cast off and clear the dock. After passing under the new Hatea River Bridge and negotiating a few bends in the river, we passed by Norsand boat yard, where the intrepid crew of Yaniska waved us a bon voyage from the beach. It was nice to start this passage---which is likely to be cold and rough---by being seen off by good friends. 

Yesterday, we got fuel, did last-minute projects and laundry, and finished stowing the boat. We have an appointment with Customs at mid-morning today. I think we have achieved escape velocity. 

The Hatea River Bridge, designed after a Maori bone fish hook, is raised to allow a New Zealand boat (pictured) and Silhouette to pass underneath

Town Basin Time

Yes, it’s redundant having two consecutive blog posts (albeit over two months apart) with the word “time” in the title, but our stay in New Zealand has seemed to be made up of discrete periods of time, each with their own special flavor. Time is also much on our minds now that it is time to leave.

We have been in a slip at the Whangarei Marina, located in the Town Basin, since the second week of May. During this period of time more than any other, I have come to feel like I live in New Zealand because I have had the trappings of a land-based life:  a small but wonderful circle of friends, a landscape that engenders a strong sense of place, a regular exercise routine, weekly visits to the Farmer’s Market, and even a video rental account that has allowed me to catch up on some of the films I’ve missed while cruising. The only thing missing is a job! I realize that I’ve been lulled into a false sense of “rootedness” that is about to end abruptly. Before we go, here is a synopsis of our lives in Whangarei.

The Marina

Whangarei Marina lies in the heart of Town Basin, within walking distance of downtown Whangarei. It consists of berths in slips or on pile moorings, so there is something for everyone depending on one’s needs. During the winter, the days are seldom completely rainy or sunny all day long but are a mixture of showers and sun breaks; Whangarei is home to the most rainbows I’ve ever seen.

Rainbow over Town Basin
Good old boat in Town Basin

Despite all the boats, there is still a lot of wildlife living in or near the marina. Mullet jump out of the water, an occasional seal makes it the twelve miles upriver to the harbor, and bird life abounds. Two types of shags (cormorants), ducks, and kingfishers provide constant entertainment at the marina as they fish and dabble for a living. There is also a  beautiful resident thrush. Although I was told by a local it is probably an introduced European species, the thrush acts like a native species becase it feeds primarily on the ground. 

A black shag rests on a mooring line

Mallard pair in Town Basin

Our resident kingfisher looks for dinner
Walking Parihaka

Most mornings in Town Basin began with a walk up the steep hill, Parihaka. Shortly after I arrived at the marina, my friend Litara Taule'alo Barrott introduced me to the trail system nearby. Without her, I never would have suspected such a beautiful system of tracks lay so close to the heart of downtown Whangarei. Three tracks---Ross, Drummond, and Dobie, lead to the top of Parihaka and to a beautiful view of the Hatea River, Whangarei, and the surrounding hills. 

Ross Track

A new day dawns over the Hatea River and city of Whangarei

Tree fern fiddlehead

Morning light strikes a kauri tree

The forest floor
Most mornings, we went up and down Ross for a quick hour’s worth of cardio workout, but we also mixed it up, doing different combinations of the three tracks for a change of pace. I enjoyed Litara’s company as much as the workout.

Woman warrior:  Litara looks at the waterfall
One morning we took a longer walk along the river, and then covered a stretch along the road before again turning into the forest. We took two other short tracks to a kauri canopy walk and to Whangarei Falls. 

Whangarei Falls

Canvas Work and Other Boat Projects

Of course, living at the marina was not for the purpose of being on a vacation. If we were on vacation, we would have been visiting the geothermal pools at Rotorua, driving up ninety-mile beach at Cape Reinga, perusing museums in Wellington, or tramping around the South Island. But doggone it, we have been preparing a boat to go on a passage to weather! Yes, we have been preparing Silhouette to return back across the Pacific against the prevailing winds. Consequently, Patrick spent much of our first month here in a flurry of sewing shears, Sunbrella, vinyl, and snap fasteners. When he emerged, Silhouette had a new dodger (started on Great Barrier Island), a new bimini cover, a new mains'l cover, and a new sail bag for the spinnaker. I just stayed out of Patrick's way and let the thread and treadle fly. 

Silhouette wearing her new set of canvas

This photo doesn't due justice to the work Patrick did on the new dodger and bimini

Sail bag for the spinnaker and its sock

Pocket for the mainsail headboard

We also took our headsail to a sailmaker at Calibre Sails  (David Parr) and had him look over the sail and replace any broken stitching or other problems that he saw. He added a piece of webbing where he thought we needed it and removed some of the unnecessary luff tape at the head and tack of the furling sail. At our request, David replaced the leather patch that Patrick and I had added for chafe protection (which had chafed through!) where the sail rubs against the bow pulpit and replaced it with a PVC patch. (The sail was poorly cut for our boat.) He also sold us a roll of sticky-back black tape. When we see chafe appearing on the patch, we apply the tape to the area of wear. In this way, we end up replacing the tape and not the patch. Patrick also had the sailmaker add grommets to the luff of the sail so we can hank it on in case of a furler failure. We were very impressed with David's expertise, knowledge about his materials, and service.  

After a brief hiatus from sewing, Patrick also made a new bag for the storm stays'l and converted the old one into an on-deck storage bag for our Jordan series drogue.

On deck storage bag for Jordan series drogue
In the meantime, I spliced the new jib sheets. (Our headsail is designed to attach the sheets to a T-ring with eye splices instead of with bowlines) I also added splices to our jacklines and main sheet and made my first splices of one inch line. I eye spliced the one-inch line around thimbles to attach the drogue bridle lines to the shackles at the stern of our boat. It took both Patrick and I to do the final bury on the eye splices for the drogue bridle. We decided we want to have the drogue set up and ready for deployment on this passage. 

Drogue bridle attachment to the stern of Silhouette
I also waged a small battle against mildew:  fiberglass boat + cold, damp climate = condensation + mildew. Suffice to say, I now understand why some people choose to stay in the tropics forever. 

Patrick wanted to get some weight off the stern for this passage, so he had a welder make some stainless steel cages to keep our jerry cans for extra fuel from sliding out from the bottom when tied to the rail. I cringed at the thought of drilling 16 new holes into the deck to secure the cages, but of course they were all drilled over-size and epoxy filled. The welder gave us some pieces of an old rubber conveyor belt that Patrick used to line the cages so the stainless wouldn't chafe against the plastic cans.

Secure storage for jerry cans

We also experimented with stowing our outboard in the port laz for this passage, but it took up too much room and would have made it difficult to do any repairs from that space should the need arise. (Our prop shaft, one fuel tank, batteries, and water filters are all accessed through the port laz.) So the outboard is back on the stern, where I hope it doesn't see any rogue waves. I think if one was going to spend a lot of time cruising in the high latitudes, a hard dinghy with oars or a large enough boat to get the outboard off the deck would be a safety requirement.  

We have completed dozens of other small projects too numerous to mention. 

Finally, we have set to work on a project that has been nagging us ever since we left Seattle:  securing the boat better for heavy weather. We had only reasonably secured about 50% of the areas likely to be problematic in a knockdown or a roll. Our floorboards (hatches leading to the bilge) and the cubby lids under our settees (in which heavy items like canned goods and engine spares our stored) remained unsecured. Dumpster diving to the rescue once again! We found some thin yet extremely strong strips of oak and mahogany in the garbage pile, from which I was able to make locking catches for the settee cubby lids. 

Cubby lid latches made from salvaged white oak
Patrick made similar catches out of metal plates to hold our floorboards (hatches to bilge) in place, only his plates are hidden underneath the floorboards so we don't trip on them. He filed a notch into the bolt so we would know which direction the metal plate underneath is pointing. 

Floorboard latch in locked position

We will have to use a screw driver to access the compartments under the floorboards, but we only need to leave them locked while we're underway.     

Antics with Yaniska

During our Pacific crossing, we have met two cruising families traveling with an adult (married) child and his or her spouse. We have mentioned yacht Oyaragh and her crew on this blog before. While at Norsand, we met the second of these two families on Yaniska Twenty-One. Vikki and Guy Hilton, their daughter Kerenza, and their son-in-law Mihovil Uroda are some of the most fun and interesting people we've met on this journey. (Vikki and Guy’s son Ross did not come along on the sailing expedition.) 

We started a tradition of barbecues and banter (and the occasional pub outing) with the Hiltons and Urodas while together in Norsand boat yard, which we kept up in the form of dinners and potlucks after Silhouette left the yard in order to stay in contact. 

Although Guy and Vikki are British, they have made their life traveling while Guy worked as a forester and forestry professor and Vikki worked as an educator and team builder. They married in South Africa, and daughter Kerenza was born in Papua, New Guinea. Later, they moved to Edinborough, Scotland. Kerenza's husband Miho, a Croatian, completes their multinational crew. Yaniska has been in the same family for going-on three generations:   Originally belonging to Vikki’s parents, Vikki and Guy are now at the helm; and someday, Yaniska may be passed down to Kerenza. 

Kerenza at the tiller:  Photo downloaded without permission

The crew of Yaniska (or "child of the wind") was in the midst of a circumnavigation when they paused in New Zealand to do overdue maintenance on their aging wooden boat. Vikki’s cheerful personality, quick wit, and ready laugh, along with Kerenza’s dry, sarcastic humor always keep a smile on our faces, while Guy and Miho are laid-back, soft-spoken, and easygoing. (Um, Kerenza, I can hear you now!) Their friendship brought light and warmth to our New Zealand winter.

Meeting Yacht Sina

One of the highlights of our stay at Town Basin has been ending up on the same dock as SY (sailing yacht) Sina, home to Noel and Litara Barrott. We had frequently seen Noel during our stay at Norsand Boat Yard, where he works primarily on wooden boats (including Yaniska); however, since we have a fiberglass boat and did all our own work, we did not have much opportunity to interact with him until he became our neighbor at Town Basin. Noel is a master boatwright, and Sina is the second of two wooden boats that he and Litara not only built but then went sailing on. (Noel is currently is planning his third boat and already has the timbers for it.) 

Neighbors:  Silhouette, Calypso, and Sina (stern to)
Sina is a beautiful 53-foot yawl. (I learned that the difference between a ketch and a yawl is that a yawl has its mizzen mast abaft of the rudder post.) The craftsmanship on the boat is evident in every detail, from the interior joinery to the brass portlight rings salvaged from a shipwreck off Great Barrier Island and modified to drain the water from their wells. Noel used at least half a dozen different types of timbers---some from native New Zealand trees like puriri and others from Asia or America---to construct the vessel. (Follow the link above for photos of the deck and interior of Sina.) Sina’s wire lifelines are hand-spliced and seized by Noel.

Litara originally hails from Samoa, but she met Noel in New Zealand when she was a young nursing student. Through a relative, she asked if Noel would take her to the Nurse's Ball. Noel took dancing lessons for the occasion; and while Litara says he stepped on her feet the entire time, he must have done something right because they were married soon afterwards. It was amusing to hear her recount her story of being a young Samoan bride, receiving a "coil of rope" (line) from the Hiscocks! At the time, she was perplexed by the gift, but after circumnavigating on Masina, the wedding gifts Litara recalls most vividly are the line (which became their mainsheet), along with two heavy, copper-bottomed cooking pots (which Litara still has.) “The pretty gifts that you get but serve no purpose" have faded from her memory, she says. 

On Noel's part, he recalls that on one of their first dates, Litara helped him move two tons of lead for the keel of Masina. (Noel's idea of a date is similar to Patrick's.) 

Sina is a female heroine of Samoan legend, and the Barrott's boat shares its name with their daughter, Sina. At the age of eighteen, Sina became a heroine in the Barrott's own legend when the boat suffered a knockdown in Patagonia, off the coast of Argentina. Noel and a crew member were washed overboard. After extricating herself from the confusion down below, Sina took the helm while Litara worked the deck, and the two women set about rescuing Noel. (This was no easy feat, considering Sina's freeboard, and due to his wife and daughter's quick actions, Noel still had enough strength left to help pull himself up to the rail, where together, they could haul him aboard.) After Noel was safely on board, they went after the crewman, who had managed to crawl into the dinghy (which thankfully, was also washed overboard.) 

The Barrotts circumnavigated on Masina---their first boat---and along with their daughter, completed a second circumnavigation on Sina. (Son Walter also made part of this journey with the Barrotts, but he departed the boat in Australia to attend school.) Only Sina had an engine, and neither boat had a steering vane. The Barrotts sailed (and hand-steered) a combined total of over 130,000 miles between the two boats and received the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Sailing Medal. Noel and Litara Barrott were sailing during the same time as Miles and Beryl Smeeton, Hal and Margaret Roth, Alvah and Diana Simon, Lin and Larry Pardy, and Beth Leonard and Evans Stargazer---in fact, they have met all these famous sailing couples along the way---but because the Barrotts never published a book about their own adventures, they are not as well known in the sailing community.

Samoan Cultural Celebration

In mid-June, yachts Sina, Silhouette and Yaniska attended a Samoan Cutural Celebration at Litara’s invitation. It was a good excuse to pretend we were in the tropics at the onset of New Zealand winter, so we all dressed the part. 

Silhouette and Sina

Noel and Litara

Guy and Vikki

Patrick and Kirsten

Group photo with Kerenza and Miho in the foreground

Miho and Litara share a laugh

Apprentice and Master:  Mihovil Uroda and Noel Barrott

Good friends, good times

Everyone had a great time. Patrick even won a candy lei and a bottle of wine for being the “best dressed man.” The label of the wine was Shipwreck Bay! To ward off bad luck, we drank the wine instead of carrying it to our next port of call. A tough job, but someone had to do it...

Matakohe/Limestone Island

While out for a walk with Litara, we ran into a friend of hers, Dwane Kokich, who volunteers on Matakohe or Limestone Island. Matakohe is one of the many islands in New Zealand that has achieved a pest free status due to its intensive management and the vigilant efforts of its volunteers. A full time ranger lives on the island and coordinates the restoration efforts, and some paid labor is contracted out (a recent example is for operating heavy machinery to build walking tracks on the island.) However, much of the routine work on the island is conducted by volunteers. As a result, North island brown kiwi and grey-faced petrels are returning to Matakohe, and there are currently about forty resident kiwi. Fantails, fern birds, and other native species are also thriving.

I expressed an interest in volunteering on Matakohe since I had a couple of days of free time before we left Town Basin. Dwane picked me up on his way past the marina and we drove to Onerahi, where ranger Bernie picked us up, along with three others in the island’s launch. 

Approaching Limestone Island

Dwane and I spent most of my first day on the island putting bait in rodent traps on transects 25m apart throughout the island’s interior. While they get very few rats now, rats are notorious for swimming, so they must continue to keep the tracks active even in the absence of predators on the island. I’m not sure how I feel about the strong measure of using poison traps to ward off predators (because it is a job that is never done and affects other organisms than the target species), but as a volunteer I was there to help do whatever was considered necessary by the local ecologists. I learned that introduced snails and cockroaches also eat the bait in the traps (and observed many dead snails myself); that the kiwis eat the snails and cockroaches; but that they haven’t found any dead kiwi on the island. I wondered if the poison bioaccumulates and how long it would take to reach a concentration that would kill kiwi? I also wondered if the poison could affect the kiwi population in another way, like the way DDT caused eagle egg shells to be too thin and break?  

In the afternoon, Dwane and I planted a few native trees (young saplings that had been in the path of the track that was under construction and were dug up and put aside for relocation.) 

Planting a native kauri tree on Matakohe (Photo courtesy of Dwane Kokich)
Finally, Dwane showed me around the old cement works. Limestone Island got its European name from the limestone deposits that are found all over the island. A lime works was created on the island in 1858 which was transformed into a cement works in 1880. Cement continued to be produced on the island until 1918, when the operation was moved to Portland in 1918.

Wild sheep against cement work ruins

The cement workers lived in these limestone barracks (Photo courtesy of Dwane Kokich)

My ambassador to Limestone Island:  Dwane Kokich

Cement works brick kiln:  The cement slurry came in through the rusted pipe spout at top

Self-destructing ruins:  The iron in these pillars swells to eight times its normal volume when wet...

....and bursts the cement pillars apart
On my second day volunteering at Matakohe, I joined a lively group of about seven other volunteers, along with ranger Bernie, to do a large planting at one end of the island. We planted native trees and shrubs like puriri, five-finger, tea tree, cabbage tree, and flax, in an ongoing effort to reforest some of the island, providing forage and shelter for the native birds.  

Mature flax (foreground) and cabbage tree (background) on Limestone Island