Thursday, July 18, 2013

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


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