I'm finding the blog slightly difficult to write at the moment, I (Graham) have to admit. We both feel rather as though we're in limbo, waiting for the off, and our days aboard are punctuated only by the routines of normal living (get up, eat breakfast, check emails, etc) and by the rewarding ticks on our still surprisingly-long to-do list. It's a bit dull but it's got too be done...
Part of the problem is that we don't have an exact date as to when to sail north to Tonga. The surprisingly nasty storm that just rocked us is an indication that the season hasn't quite settled into its normal routines; we now have a week of light winds ahead of us and we really need the perfect combination of a departing low pressure to kick us north east from NZ before meeting the south-easterly trade winds to take us on a close reach to our destination. The other thing is a feeling encapsulated in the old seafarer's saying "Harbours rot both ships and men!".
Our confidence (and bravado) of facing big ocean passages, at an all-time high when we arrived here 6 months ago, has been eroded by time away from the sea and now we feel as though we have to learn all those skills again, to regain our connection with the noises and movements of Maunie in a big swell and strong winds. We're not alone in this - it's not good to chat to other sailors here at the moment as we all share the butterflies-before-the-race feeling and there's a real danger of talking each other out of setting sail, as each person has their own take on the latest weather outlook. We're just waiting for a long-range weather forecast from an impartial professional, which we should get tomorrow, to get a feel for when we might venture back into the ocean.
So, back to the challenges of writing the blog. Part of the issue is knowing that we have a loyal readership (thank you for sticking with us!) of very different backgrounds and interests. Details of weather patterns, sail plans and boat issues may be of interest to the hard-core sailors but for others they are just vaguely relevant, but possibly mystifying, paragraphs in a bigger travel story. So, we try to balance the narrative with a dose of observation, comment and humour, I'm not sure how successfuly. Several of you drop us regular emails with encouraging 'enjoying the blog, keep it up' footnotes, so thank you for those but, please, if you'd like more of this and less of the other, do share your thoughts. Blogs, unlike books, have the benefit of a 'Comment' button at the bottom so do please use it to share your thoughts to make the whole thing more lively and interactive. Anyway, at the moment we're feeling a bit lonely in limbo (and a very long way from home, family and friends) so our creative juices need some help (and, to make matters entirely worse, we've both cut our alcohol consumption to near-Lent levels!).
Anyway, just to finish with a more boaty and positive update, a quick thought on the to-do list. Boats, we've long ago discovered, challenge us with technical problems the like of which we just don't encounter in normal life. These days, things usually work perfectly when you press the button and if they don't, it's the norm to throw it away and buy a new one, through a combination of sheer economics and the lack of people who actually can mend things. Cars of our youth, which required a special knack to make them go (we had one whose starter motor required a regular whack with a hammer!) have been replaced with stress-free machines whose exhaust pipes last for decades rather than a couple of years and whose engines are encased by sound-proofing (and tinkering-preventing) plastic rather than oily fingermarks from the last round of repairs. Can't say I miss the routine of spraying WD40 over the electrics of the Morris 1000 in the hope that the thing would wheeze into life before the battery gave out, leaving the thumb-breaking starting-handle or a do-or-die hill-start as the only options, but I do think it was the perfect education for working on a boat.
Sailing yachts, as we've said before, contain a huge range components, from manufacturers around the globe, fitted into distressingly-cramped spaces (by builders who have heard of the concept of 'easy access for maintenance' but will have no truck with it) and treated to an unhealthy dose of corrosive, salt-laden air, or worse, gallons of salty water. Their owners, on a trip like ours, find themelves engaged in an ongoing battle to keep thing working and they quickly realise that the construction of their pride and joy vessel is such that no quarter has been given, no easy-option left. Nothing is easy, something always sticks or breaks when you try to undo it and every 'simple' job results in skinned knuckles and frayed tempers. The only people who enjoy working on boats are professional boat fixers because the harder the job, the longer they take and the more they get paid.
I've actually resorted to pretending that I'm being paid by the hour now as I tackle another job on the list and the pretense actually helps! So today, for instance, when I found another water leak from the generator (a machine whose construction and installation is a perfect example of the issues just outlined), I took it in my stride and stripped it down to find that the seal in the water cooling pump was failing. I whistled the tuneless whistle of the boat mechanic as I contorted myself into a tiny space to undo the two hopelessly-fiddly bolts to remove the pump and then hummed contentedly as I replaced all the covers. Just hope a local engine specialist can rebuild the pump with new seals now.
Every now and then, albeit distressingly infrequently, we get a little positive surprise, however. We become so conditioned to every job being tricky that it's easy to assume the worst before you start and that was my mindset, I have to admit, when I tackled the final job of the day. Our diesel tank is fitted low in the boat, below the floor in our cabin, and there's an access panel on the top with a small sample cap screwed into it. Before we refill with fresh diesel, I wanted to use a little pump to suck up a sample of fuel right from the bottom of the tank. Diesel, particularly on boats, can easily become infected with what's known as 'diesel bug', a microbiological growth that thrives on the interface between the oil and any water that's present in it. This water can come from condensation on the sides of half-empty tanks in cold weather but often is present in the stuff we buy from out of the way places where storage tanks are not good. Once present, it grows onto a cloudy bloom which clogs the fuel filters and starves the engine (usually at a critical moment). We've met several people who've suffered the problem and an expensive process of emptying the fuel and putting it through a 'fuel polisher' (and possibly steam-cleaning the fuel tank) was the only solution.
We've tried to be as careful as possible in selecting our fuel supplier and always use an expensive biocide treatment but, even so, I wasn't confident as I drew up a litre of fuel from the base of the tank into a plastic bottle. No wine maker has scrutinised the colour and clarity of his latest vintage with more concern but, to huge relief, it was clean and clear - no water, no bug, just the colour of a good Chardonnay. Time for a small glass (of Chardonnay, not diesel) to celebrate.