Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Boat work and photos

Since we arrived on Sunday,we've been very busy. Maunie's in the very nice Opua Marina where the staff are really welcoming and helpful and the facilities superb. We've put all our clothes through the excellent launderette and even put the cushion covers from the pilot house through the washing machines to get rid of the accumulated salt and grime of a year's blue-water sailing. Meanwhile we've hoisted and fresh-water rinsed the sails before taking them off and the local sailmaker will collect them this morning for servicing. 

There is a huge chandlery here, the best we've seen since Las Palmas at the start of the ARC, so we've been buying boat spares and equipment for the various jobs that we have on our list. The team in the shop are real sailors: one crewed on Team Phillips, the ill-fated Pete Goss catamaran that dramatically broke up on a transatlantic record attempt a few years ago and he told us that they had no warning of the disaster which was all over in a minute or so - the crew spent 9 hours in the life raft. Bob, the sales manager, is an American who sailed here a few years ago and stayed and he's offered to help us with fitting a new seal to our propeller shaft - he's also offered us the use of his car today to go to the supermarket!

So, we haven't yet really had time to venture out of the environs of the marina yet but we'll do so over the next few days. The nearest town, Paihia, is a little seaside place with just a few shops and Whangerie is the nearest city, about an hour's drive from here so we're looking at renting some bikes to explore the stunningly beautiful countryside.

In the meantime, here is a selection of photos from the past couple of weeks:

 Above: Changing light, on the last evening to NZ

 Arriving in the Bay of Islands

Stormvogel motoring into Opua

Racing crew on Stormvogel

Farewell to the Trade Winds

Monday, 28 October 2013

Safely arrived in New Zealand!

We're delighted to report our safe arrival in Opua. As dawn broke we had the first view of the Bay of Islands and it's a really lovely place – ideal cruising grounds so we look forward to exploring the many anchorages here.
Last evening started well, with a lovely 3kg tuna landed (Stormvogel also caught one within about a minute of ours!) so that sorted out the 'what shall we have for supper?' dilemma. The wind continued to die during the night and then swung around onto our nose so we motored steadily into what for us were near-Antarctic temperatures; at 3.00am Graham even fired up the heating system and was delighted that it worked after 12 months' disuse.
This morning dawned sunny and bright so we really enjoyed the sail up river to Opua, especially as we were accompanied by dolphins for a while. The clearing-in process with Customs and Biosecurity was very painless and friendly and we didn't have to surrender many food items at all. We celebrated our arrival with Heidi and Peter and a couple of very nice bottles of wine, followed by tuna curry. We're about to move Maunie to her marina berth so will be able to step on to mainland NZ for the first time. We are so delighted to be here and can't wait to explore.
We'll add some photos in the next day or so but, in the meantime, are looking forward to some shore-based R&R. Meanwhile, back in the UK, Di's family are celebrating Freddie's christening; we'd have loved to have been there but will raise a glass or two to the young fella this evening.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Minerva to NZ, Day 5

Complete confidence in the temporary shroud – Stormvogel flies her spinnaker
Our position as at 07.30 (local) Saturday (18.30 UTC, 24th):
32 degrees 55 minutes south, 175 degrees 43 minutes east
Distance to go to Opua: 155 miles
Yesterday was a lovely bonus: as hoped, the wind shifted a little to allow us to fly our Parasailor from 11.00am till 8.00pm so we had a lovely sunny sail. As night fell, the wind (still from the north east) was becoming more fitful so we decided to drop the spinnaker whilst there was still light to see and start motoring again.
At just before 5.00am we met the forecasted weather front – a big wall of cloud and some very cold rain swept over us and the wind did a 180 degree shift to come back from the south east. Graham was on watch so go very wet sorting sails out but he hoisted the mainsail and, at the moment, we are sailing with full rig on a close reach making just over 5 knots towards Opua. Ideally we'd like to be a little faster as our GPS is predicting an ETA of 3.00pm on Sunday and we want to get in to clear-in with customs and immigration before they finish for  the day, otherwise we'll be moored on an offshore quarantine pontoon, unable to go ashore, looking longingly at the lights of a harbourside bar!  Some judicious tactical motor-sailing will be required we think! The lovely sunshine and blue sky is a thing of the past as we now have leaden grey skies and grey seas – just like sailing in the English Channel!
Today we'll be busy getting ready for our arrival. We'll sort through our food stocks and have a container full of food items we know will be seized by the customs and health team, tidy the boat and, most important of all, Dianne's going to trim Graham's hair which has gone wild.
All being well, tomorrow's blog will be written from New Zealand!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Minerva to NZ, Day 4

Last night's sunset
Our position as at 09.30 (local) Friday (20.30 UTC, 24th):
31 degrees 11 minutes south, 176 degrees 41 minutes east
We've had about 30 hours of motorsailing in a very light NE breeze which occasionally picked up enough to stop the engine for a couple of hours' blissful silence. Today, though, the wind has moved round to the NE and we are sailing again at a stately 5 knots; we're hoping it might go a bit more behind us so that we can fly the Parasailor but otherwise we're very happy. The sea is calm and the sky clear blue and we have 270 miles to go; we hope to make it into Opua on Sunday afternoon.
Highlights of yesterday included Dianne's baking session – delicious flapjack – and Graham's macaroni cheese. We're trying to use up our flour, oats, rice and pasta as they will get confiscated by the biosecurity people when we arrive in New Zealand. Also on the banned list are honey, fresh vegetables (we wish we had some!), eggs, cheese and fresh meat (also now sadly absent from our fridge).
Our weather route has given us a pretty much direct course to Opua rather than the normal dog-leg west to approach NZ from due north. This has saved us a few dozen miles and kept us out of the adverse current and has been made possible by a unusually stable high pressure south of us. This is slowly moving east, which is why the wind changed direction last night and we will hit a small front, probably tomorrow, which will bring a bit of rain and possibly some SW head winds for a short time. A boat that arrived yesterday reported on the SSB net that the temperature was down to 11 degrees C in the morning but otherwise they were very pleased to have arrived.
The newly-discovered 'New Zealand Triangle' which seems to destroy autopilots on yachts has claimed yet another victim. Anico. a German Halberg Rassy  which left Minerva with us and is now about 30 miles behind, reports that their electrical autopilot has failed so when there is no wind to make their Windpilot work, they have to take it in turns to hand-steer when motoring. Regina and Michael sounded pretty tired on the SSB net this morning so will be delighted that this breeze will enable the to hand over steering duties to the Windpilot. We think that the boatyards in NZ have clubbed together so install some Blofeldt-inspired device to create these problems so that they have lots to do when we arrive!
Counting the hours.....

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Minerva to NZ, Day 3 - and another milestone

From there to here in 14 months:
Dianne uses our laser-guided, satellite GPS navigation device to show the route
Hello from 28 degrees 15 minutes south, 178 degrees 26 minutes EAST
As you'll see from our position, we passed another significant milestone this morning as we crossed the 180 degree line of longitude and passed from west to east. We are now, officially, at the other side of the world from home. It was unexpected but lovely that the Royal New Zealand Air Force should recognise this historic moment with a fly-past but this afternoon a huge four-engined reconnaissance Orion flew over us at about 100 feet and called us on the VHF to check our identity and to confirm our intended arrival port and ETA. For the arrangements of the official welcome reception and brass band, presumably.
We lost the wind yesterday evening at about 8.00pm after a nice 4-hour spinnaker run and have been motoring, on and off, since. The forecast still looks as though we have a day of light winds ahead but may get something more on Friday. The wind comes and goes, though, and as I write we have a lovely force 4 so are sailing well on a close reach. Stormvogel are a mile behind us, making good speed with only their foresails, and confirm that the rig seems fine, though it makes a few slightly alarming noises if the boat rolls when just under engine.
We are really noticing huge and quick changes to our environment as we head south. In contrast to our arrival in the tropics, where we were heading mostly west with a little bit of south so changes were slow, our relatively fast exit southwards now means that we are noticing changes every day. For a start, we have about 3 hours more daylight than we had; having become accustomed to darkness falling with a bang at about 6.00pm and daylight only returning at 6.30am, it great so have long evenings and earlier light. It only got dark at about 8.30pm this evening and first light is now well before 6.00am. The other main change is the temperature, of both air and sea. The water from the watermaker (which takes in sea water) is now cool rather than tepid and it's now possible to drink a glass of water from the main tank without having to chill it in a bottle. Equally, the fridge, which cools its refrigerant in a hull-mounted heat-exchanger, is now trying to turn itself into a freezer so we have had to adjust its settings. On deck, it feels chilly enough to need long trousers and fleeces at night but it does mean that temperatures are a lot more comfortable below. Sorry, I know the first frosts have probably arrived in the UK so you probably don't want to know that we still haven't used the duvet on our bunk.
So, another 4 days to go, or thereabouts, so we look forward to more changes and the shock of seeing shipping as we approach NZ. The seas around here have been empty of other vessels (apart from fellow yachtsmen) so we'll have to start scanning the horizon for lights again.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Minerva to NZ, Day 2 - Maunie's turn for a problem

Stormvogel motors out of Minerva Reef
Position as at 17.30 GMT on 21st Oct:
25 degrees 26 mins south
179 degrees 43 west
We left Minerva reef at 11.00am yesterday (Monday) local time and set sail in perfect conditions – a gentle swell and a Force 5 NE wind. Stormvogel set their foresails and Peter reported that the mast was rock-steady and they were making good speed (over 6.5 knots) without the mainsail. We set a double-reefed main and one reef in the yankee to match their speed and had a really lovely afternoon's sailing, with the cockpit speakers blasting out some music. Supper was proper home-cooked chicken curry and rice followed by fresh pineapple.
I  (Graham) sat in the pilothouse as the sun set, marvelling at our fast and steady progress and that we were sailing a 'green' boat – the propulsion and steering were provided by the wind and the bright sunshine mean that Maunie's battery bank was fully charged, even with the water-maker running for three hours to make 90 litres of drinking water. Such a contrast to the first two days from Tonga so I was really relaxed and happy, looking forward to the rest of our last big voyage to Opua.
Things changed with a bang just before midnight. Maunie suddenly veered off course and gybed before I could get to the wheel. I got her back under control and then set about adjusting Winnie, our normally incredibly reliable Windpilot self-steering gear, to settle back on course but to no avail. It took me some moments to take in what had happened but, shining a torch over the back of the boat, I could see that Winnie's rudder was no longer there! There had been no noise of impact but it's broken off from its vertical shaft. Unbelievable, it's such a solid construction! We can't see where the break is until we stop the boat and inspect the Windpilot from the water so we are left puzzled and with a real sense of loss. Winnie is our vital, but silent, third crew member so to see her disabled is a real blow, quite upsetting.
At least we still have Constance, out electric autopilot, so she has stepped in admirably through the night. She just uses electrical power from the batteries (so we go from an average of 2.5 amps to an average of 6 amps current demand) which means we'll have to run the generator to augment the power produced by the solar panels.
Apart from this, all's well. For the first time ever we (Maunie and Stormvogel) are sharing the services of a professional weather router, Bob McDavitt from NZ. Bob was part of the NZ Americas Cup campaign a few years ago and enjoys god-like status amongst Kiwi sailors; he's semi retired now but offers a weather routing service to yachts in this part of the world. We've given him our sailing speed and he's given us a route which jinks left and right towards NZ to avoid counter currents and get the most favourable winds. It's a whole new thing for us and quite fascinating – his route tells us where we should be each 6 hours and what the wind and waves should be like. Obviously the forecast gets more sketchy toward the end of the 7 day passage so we send daily position updates to get new routing information as required. The weather is definitely tricky down here as we leave the area of fairly consistent SE – E trade winds and head south towards frontal systems can bring SW gales if you get your timing wrong. Bob's forecast suggest we'll have light winds ahead for a couple of days, so will probably have to motor-sail a bit, but hopefully we'll arrive at Opua (on Monday we hope)between two weather fronts that will cross North Island on Saturday and next Thursday. Hope he lives up to his reputation!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Day 4 - a pitstop at Minerva Reef after a traumatic night for Stormvogel

Graham. Hair by Wind & Sea, Eyes by Sleep Deprivation, Makeup by Total Exhaustion
This morning at first light we made our way through the pass into Minerva Reef to find, bliss, calm water and a good anchorage after a testing night. As reported yesterday, Stromvogel had managed to lash their Hydrovane unit after one of the main mounting bolts sheared but at 8.30pm we had a frightening call on the VHF – one of the shrouds (wires) supporting the mast had broken! Peter and Heidi had heard a loud 'bong' and the next minute the mast was wobbling around in a way that it certainly shouldn't.
Having dropped the sails, Peter called back for ideas and explained that the starboard lower shroud, which connects to the mast about one third up to keep the lower part of the pole from moving, had dropped to the deck; the 't' fitting that slots into the mast had fractured in two. He and Graham quickly discussed options to stabilise the mast, which was in real danger of collapsing, and then Peter did a brilliant job of using the two spinnaker halyards, winched tight, to get the thing back under control.
After that, Stormvogel motored in a horribly rolly sea (sailing yachts make terrible motorboats without the sails to steady them) whilst we stood by, under sail, hoping that the fix would hold. In the early hours of the morning we received another call, this time to say that the second bolt on the Hydrovane had sheared off and the whole thing was in imminent danger of being wrenched off the stern. Through a Herculean effort, Peter and Heidi managed to remove the final bolt and heave the whole thing onto the deck and lash it down safely.
So there were two very tired and relieved crews here in Minerva Reef this morning! After a couple of hours' sleep, Graham and Michael, the skipper of another German boat Anico which also arrived today, went over to Stormvogel and worked through a more permanent jury-rig to secure the mast for the 800 miles to New Zealand. Graham took with him a length of Dyneema rope (high-tech stuff that's as strong as steel and doesn't stretch under load) and climbed the mast to attach it around the lower spreaders whilst Peter and Michael set up a block and tackle at its lower end to enable us to tension it sufficiently to get the mast straight and stable. We  were very pleased with the result and it should enable Stormvogel to sail, with foresails only, on to Opua; needless to say we'll be standing by.
This has been another unlucky strike for Stormvogel (both the rigging and the Hydrovane were newly and professionally installed before they left, 18 months ago) but Peter and Heidi's resilience and determination in adversity continue to inspire, even though they must wonder why the dice keep rolling against them. The forecast looks good for heading south tomorrow, thankfully, so we aim to leave the sanctuary of the reef in the morning to make steady progress to NZ. Hopefully we'll all sleep better on passage!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Tonga to NZ - Day 3

Position at 22.00 UTC, Friday 18th
22 degrees, 17 minutes south
177 degrees, 42 minutes west
Speed over ground 6.1 knots
We're glad to report that the weather is improving. The wind is dropping a little and the seas, though still large, aren't crashing over the deck as frequently. Our tiredness has meant that we have both been able to get some sleep off watch and so life is looking decidedly better. This morning (remember we are 12 hours ahead of GMT / UTC) we have bright sunshine after a wonderful full-moon night but the temperatures are definitely dropping as we move south so fleeces and long trousers were deployed.
We had a minor drama last night with Stormvogel. We were aiming to keep around a mile away from them as we charged along at 7.5 knots when Dianne, on her first night watch, noticed that their course had become quite erratic. She called Heidi on the VHF who said that Trudi, their Hydrovane wind vane steering system, wasn't working properly and Peter was investigating. A few minutes later Peter called to say that one of the large stainless steel bolts attaching the Hydrovane to the boat had sheared off and the unit was moving with every wave, threatening to tear itself off the stern of the boat. We discussed options to put a temporary rope lashing onto it so Peter & Heidi dropped their sails to make the repair whilst we hove to nearby. The lashing looks to have done the job through the night but we are now looking at the option to put into Minerva Reef (100 miles from here so we'd get in tomorrow morning) to anchor in relatively calm water t try to fit a new bolt. Minerva is a bit like Beveridge Reef, where we stopped en route to Nuie, an isolated ring-reef with no real land showing but it's said to offer good shelter from the swell. (and is full of sharks).
Otherwise all is well and the forecast predicts a further reduction in wind and waves so we'll be able to start cooking again. When we left the UK we bought a stock of 'Wayfarer' long-life ready meals (they also supply the UK armed forces) which we first tasted on the Round Britain Challenge. The meals are in foil pouches which you heat up in a pan of boiling water and they taste pretty good; they are ideal for the sort of conditions we've had for the past couple of days so we've sampled most of the range!  If we do stop in Minerva Reef, we'll take advantage of the calm to make a batch of chicken curry and some bread.

Tonga to NZ, Day 2

Position at 05.00 UTC, Friday 18th
21 degrees, 2 minutes south
176 degrees, 33 minutes west
Speed over ground 7.5 knots
A very quick update as sea conditions don't make typing easy! We left Vava'u yesterday lunchtime and sailed out through the western islands into quite a boisterous sea. The wind has been consistently higher than forecast and we have 3m swell but we're going well (over 170nm in the past 24 hours).
We are really hoping that things calm down a bit tomorrow as this is a bit of a challenge after 3 weeks in calm waters!!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Heading for New Zealand

Well the weather window for the next week looks pretty favourable for the 9-10 day passage to Opua in North Island so we've decided to go for it. Tomorrow morning (Thursday) will see us doing the rounds of Customs and Imigration, after which we can take on some duty-free diesel (about 65p per litre) and fresh water. All being well, we will be at sea by lunchtime.

The received wisdom is to sail a slighly inderect route to NZ, heading west first and then south. The prevailing winds are from the SE here but from the SW in New Zealand so this tactic will, we hope, mean that we can sail a relatively comfortable reach rather than a close-hauled beat as we get close to North Island. It's still only early Spring down there so the temperature difference will be a bit of a shock (the duvet has come out of its storage and is ready for action, along with fleeces and coats not used since we left the Canaries almost a year ago) and we hope to avoid any gales.

We'll be very sad to leave Vava'u after a wonderful 3 weeks here and sorry not to have had time to visit the other islands of Tonga. However, we always feel that we need to keep moving so the favourable forecast has been a good motivator to get going once more - it'll be good for us to be alcohol-free for a week or more too!

We'll send updates as we sail....

Team StormMaunie takes first place at Vava'u Regatta!

Winners of the 2013 Vava'u Regatta (Fancy Dress Division)
Right to Left: Little Red Riding Hood; Robin Hood, Motherhood and a Fine Specimen of Manhood
We were delighted with our first prize at last night's prize-giving ceremony, even if it was for the best fancy dress team! The prize was pretty good – a free haul-out, pressure wash and five days on the hard-standing when we arrive in Opua, New Zealand. Stormvogel have already decided to do their lift-out at another port so generously passed the prize onto Maunie.
As for the final race, well we did pretty well. There was a very good breeze (around 25 knots) for the return passage race so the conditions suited a heavy boat. We managed a very good start, neck and neck with fellow Southern Cross Net boat Ithica, and began to pull out a good lead as Stormvogel touched 9 knots. On the final run towards home, though, a very well-sailed (and much lighter) Beneteau hoisted a spinnaker and overtook us. The finish was slightly novel – a crew member had to get ashore to a waterfront bar to sign off before each boat was deemed to have finished. Any means to get the crew member ashore was allowed so we brought Stormvogel close to the shore and Peter bravely jumped overboard and swam for it! We came a close second and Peter swam clutching a a waterproof bag containing some cash so he could enjoy a cold beer as just rewards.
Internet is still pretty unreliable here but we hope to be able to post some photos before we leave.
Talking of leaving, we are looking at the weather forecast and think our time in Tonga will be cut short by a week or two. The long term forecast shows a reasonably intense low pressure system building over Vanuatu to the north west of Fiji and it's heading roughly our way. Close to its centre there could be winds of around 40-50 knots and, if nothing else, it'll bring rain and squally conditions here by the middle of next week. Meanwhile, there's a nice looking weather window for the next few days to had towards New Zealand. So, pending a few more reviews of the weather charts, it looks as though we'll clear out of Tonga tomorrow afternoon and set sail for NZ on Thursday morning so as to get south of the nasty weather.
We'll keep you informed of our plans...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Some photos of the Vava'u Regatta

Here are some photos (mostly taken by Peter - owner's perogative whilst racing!) from the final day's passage race:

 Zoomax, the largest boat in the race...

 ... and Destarte, the smallest

 A contemplative Dianne

A very proud owner

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A brilliant passage race

Yesterday was the first passage race from Neiafu harbour out to the islands inthe east of the Vava'u group - about 12 miles, but with lotss of tactical options as to which sides of the various islands to pass. At one stage we almost grazed the rocks of one little island as we fought for a good line to windward.

We were sailing aboard Stormvogel, with Graham as race skipper, and good a pretty decent start in the fleet of about 35 boats. There was some very close-quarters racing and we held off a much bigger and racier boat called Zoomax until the wind increased and she lived up to her name. We finished in the top 7 monohulls (we think - the results will be announced tomorrow evening) so were pleased with how we did.

The racing over, all the boats achored off the Mandala resort and there was a cracking 'Almost Full Moon' party so this morning there were a few sore heads around. We headed back to Maunie after Peter dropped us off at the old harbour pier (about a 20 minute walk from the main town) and we'll return to Stormvogel in the morning for the return race. Peter took some great photos so we'll copy some of them onto the blog in the next couple of days.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A few photos from Tonga

In the hope of better internet connections at 11.00pm, here are a few more photos of life in Tonga (all from  the island of Hunga):

 Semi-wild pigs are to be seen on the beaches and in the villages

 One of no less than six churches in a village of 380 people

 The well-kept and well-funded Mormon church

 Traditional dug-out canoes are still in use; this is Vaha who brought us vanilla and coconuts

 Views from the windward beach

 A Hermit Crab


Foreign Aid and Electricity

Above: Island Village house with new solar power
We are now back in the main anchorage at Neiafu for the Vava’u Regatta which started last night with a fancy-dress pub crawl. It was a fun event! Photos to follow. The first race took place this evening, a short round-the-cans race in the habour with only about 13 boats taking part - the rest, sensibly, put off by the almost complete absence of wind. We ghosted around the course, chatting to the other boats but eventually had to abandon when the wind disappeared altogether. Quite a contrast from the middle of last night when a front came though bringing a huge rain squall and over 35 knots of wind!
The harbour is full of boats now so the internet is completely overloaded so we’ve just a posted a couple of photos from the villages. There has been a big push from Japan to bring solar power to individual houses in the islands which has just been completed. Being slightly cynical, one feels that the rush of offers for aid from China (significantly) and now Japan is linked to bigger political aims such as fishing rights (Chinese fleets are suddenly hoovering fish up here) and pro-whaling votes.
Will hope to add more photos when the internet is less busy (middle of the night, probably!)

Friday, 4 October 2013

The lesson plan that came to naught...

Volcanic rocks on the windward side of Hunga
Whilst we were in Hunga we met Merji, one of the primary school teachers outside the little school. She and her husband are government-appointed teachers who are sent to the island schools for up to 3 years at a time; on Hunga there are 39 children from Year 1 to Year 6. The Year 6 (10-year olds) take an exam to get into secondary school – which is in the main town of Neiafu – and the exams were taking place as we met her, so the rest of the kids had two days off. She showed us the Science paper which looked pretty challenging – a two-hour exam with thirty pages and lots of questions on climate change, soil erosion, basic physics and biology and so on.
We asked her whether they would be interested in us coming to talk to the older children (who learn English from Year 3) about our travels and Merji was very keen on the idea. We went back to Maunie and put together a little lesson plan, with photos from England as well as from the voyage, plus maps and our inflatable globe, to go back into school on Thursday morning. Unfortunately we then received a message that both teachers had been called into a meeting in Neiafu on Thursday, so the kids had another day off and we had to move on so we didn't get to deliver what we think, modestly, would have been a very good lesson! Ah, well.
To make up for our disappointment we had a cracking sail to windward, up through the islands and are now anchored off Kapa Island. The snorkelling here is great and we're told that the locals in the tiny village here will supply fruit and veg so we'll go ashore to explore. Mind you we have several papaya aboard, all just turning ripe so we need to eat them;  now that we have discovered the trick of halving and de-seeding them and marinating them in the fridge with a tot of Bundeberg Australian rum, they are our new Favourite Thing.
We've a couple more weeks here in this wonderful cruising ground and will take part in the Vava'u Regatta at the end of next week – a mixture of racing and socialising which usually attracts around 70 boats. It's not all playtime, though, as we are taking very seriously the prospect of the 1100 mile passage to New Zealand at the end of the month. This will probably be our most testing voyage for quite a while as we'll be breaking out of the tropics and meeting the SW prevailing winds at the end of the NZ winter; there's a very good chance of meeting a gale on the nose. We are therefore planning storage in the boat to prevent things crashing around if we meet big seas with the wind ahead of us and this morning got out the bright orange storm staysail (unused and pristine since it was made 15 years ago) and hoisted it to make sure we can do it relatively easily in 30 knots of wind with waves crashing over the foredeck!
We are out of range of wifi internet here so can only add the odd photo via the satellite phone but we'll add some more once we get back to town next week. Do send us any questions, comments or news to maunie (at) mailasail.com in the meantime.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

British Seagull found in Tonga!

Above, Maunie at anchor in the Hunga lagoon and British Seagull - rust in peace
We have moved to the island of Hunga to the west side of the Vava'u archipelago. It's an ancient volcano so we are in the sheltered lagoon, accessed via a scarily narrow and shallow pass on the western side, anchored off the village that's home to about 300 people. The volcanic soil is rich and dark so the plantation next to the village is very productive; yesterday we traded a t-shirt and cap for some papaya, coconuts and a local leafy plant which we cooked like spinach.
As we walked around the village we came upon the remains of a British Seagull outboard motor which brought memories flooding back for me (Graham). These iconic machines were produced in Poole, Dorset, for about 60 years to a design that didn't really change very much in that time. Anybody who used a dinghy tender in the 70's will probably have used a Seagull and probably will still bear the scars; these were the days before the arrival of fancy Japanese engines with their namby-pamby, user-friendly features and smart, noise-reducing covers. British Seagulls were a challenge and the successful mastering of their idiosyncratic ways was an important life lesson. My first encounter was aboard the Wayfarer sailing dinghy belonging to a great family friend, Keith Hodgson, as we motored noisily around Fleet Bay in Scotland in search of mackerel when a flat calm descended upon us and I've dealt with a few since then; we had one for the dinghy on Dad's boat for a while.
The chief outputs of a Seagull were, in descending order: Noise; Smoke and (coming up a rather distant third) Locomotive Power. Starting and stopping the beasts were challenges that tested your manhood (these motors were definitely Not for Girls) and there were plenty of opportunities to inflict injury upon yourself. Even carrying the things from the car to the dinghy was tricky. The old press adverts for British Seagulls had a drawing of a jolly sailor, duffle bag in one hand, Seagull hoisted onto a, presumably well-padded, shoulder but the reality was that there were lots of knobbly and sharp bits to dig into your flesh and the engine would inevitably have a general coating of sticky black oil which would spread itself onto clothes and sails if you weren't careful. They also weighed a tonne.  The engine in the advert must have been the Forty Featherweight which, admittedly, a strong man could probably lift unaided but the bigger engines – the Forty Plus, the Century and the Century Plus – were definitely two–man-plus-block-and-tackle affairs. The quaint names gave no clues to vaguely useful information such as horsepower but I remember that Keith's Century model was incredibly heavy yet managed to push the Wayfarer along at no more than 5 knots.
The Seagull designers obviously took inspiration from steam locomotives, using lots of cast iron and brass, and they didn't believe in hiding the moving bits from view and out of harm's way. Most obviously there was a completely unguarded spinning flywheel at the top of the motor. To start the engine you took a 3ft length of rope with a knot in one end and a round plastic ball in the other (Keith used a Clacker confiscated from a child at his school – if you don't know what a Clacker is, ask your parents), put the knot into a notch at the top of flywheel, wrap around 6 turns of rope and prepared to pull as hard as you could. First, though, you'd adjust the shiny chrome throttle lever to what you though would be the optimal position, flick the choke flap into place, stretch the muscles in your shoulder and mutter a dark threat ("Now then, you bastard" was my favourite). Your first to 13th pulls would result in nothing but a belligerent chug from the recalcitrant machine so you'd repeat the process, fiddling haplessly with the throttle and trying to judge when the carburettor was about to become flooded (this was the moment to flick the choke flap open). Finally, just after you'd uttered the immortal phrase "That's it, the bloody thing isn't going to start, get the oars out" a final pull would see the motor suddenly burst into deafening life.
The next phase of the Seagull challenge would immediately be upon you. The things had no clutch (unless you owned for the monstrously heavy Century Plus) so were always in forward gear; the unexpected ignition would see the boat immediately surge forward. If you were really unlucky, the knot of the starter cord would get stuck in the flywheel and the cord, plus Clacker, would whirl viciously around the engine, making it impossible to get at the tiller or throttle without being whipped painfully.  In any case, stopping a Seagull at the best of times was an art in itself since there was no off-switch;  you just closed the throttle and hoped it would die. Usually it would keep going with a lumpy 'tickover' of about 100 rpm and I have seen brave people adopt a Sumo Wrestler stance and grab the spinning flywheel with both hands. A safer method was to put the palm of your hand over the trumpet-shaped air intake to the carburettor; the suction would leave a circular mark on your flesh (that would wear off after a couple of hours) but it at least starved the beast of oxygen and the sudden quiet that descended over the boat would make you aware of the ringing in your ears. Honestly these engines would have a modern health and safety officer run screaming into the trees. An environmental officer wouldn't like the Seagull much either. It was, of course, a 2-stroke engine so you mixed oil into the petrol to lubricate the moving parts. Our new Tohatsu 9.8hp outboard uses a frugal 100:1 mix (1 part oil to 100 parts petrol) but the Seagulls needed 10:1 so your progress would be followed by a haze of blue smoke to add to the noise pollution.
As the quiet, light, efficient and clean Japanese competition gained a stranglehold on the UK boating market, British Seagull belatedly attempted to modernise its designs with, shock-horror, the addition of a recoil starter and a noise reducing cover but fundamentally the works beneath remained unchanged so the additions had all the effectiveness of a whale-tail spoiler on a Morris Minor. The brand died and today all around the world there will be the remains of these engines lying unused. They won't rust, due to the years of oil leaks, so they remain as a testament to British over-engineering and under-development. I'm sure that there's a society for the preservation of old outboards somewhere in the UK who keep a few of these old motors going and I believe that Keith's eldest son Nick has kept his dad's old Century – polished and chromed to the nth – as an ornament. Half a gallon of 10:1 mix, a few well-chosen words and no more that 20 pulls on the Clacker would probably see it burst into life once more.
A note from Di: if the above blog has gone right over your head, you're not alone. The only detail that woke me up was the mention of Clackers. Yes, I remember them being banned so my pair sadly ended their life hanging on the handle of my wardrobe door as I wasn't aware of their value to Seagull owners. For slightly younger readers, well you don't know what you've missed and you should regard today's blog as a history / engineering lesson!!