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.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

NZ to Tonga Day 2 - Wot, no Stormvogel?!

Position at 02.00 UTC Thursday 1st May: 33 deg 52 min south, 175 deg 23 min east
We've had a good first night at sea and were delighted to have a decent sailing breeze until about midnight, as the forecast suggested we'd be motoring from the start. The wind swung round at about 22.00, giving Graham the challenge of gybing the boat and setting the pole to goose-wing the foresail without waking Dianne up from her off-watch slumbers. The process is a lot slower with just one person on deck and of course, that person is clipped on to the 'jackstays' (wires which run along each side deck) for safety, which hampers movement even more. However all was completed safely but the wind continued to drop until we were sailing at only 2-3 knots and rolling a bit in the gentle swell; it was time to start the engine.
For the first major passage since the Atlantic crossing, we didn't have a friendly navigation light within sight. Regular readers of the blog will know that we met Peter & Heidi on Stormvogel back in Falmouth in August 1012 and have sailed with them pretty much since. It's been great to have another boat in visual range in the middle of an otherwise empty ocean (and, thanks to our amazingly similar boat speeds, for most of the long passages we were never more than a couple of miles apart) and we've built up an firm and unshakeable friendship through good times (and a few bad). They are sailing up to Indonesia this year, via Vanuatu (west of Fiji) and Australia, so we bade them a sad farewell yesterday; we'll miss them. The good news is that they also have a long-range SSB radio so we should be able to chat to them for the next month or so at least.
On the subject of radio, we've restarted the Southern Cross Net, the daily radio chat that ran so successfully from Panama to New Zealand last year. At the end we had up to 30 boats joining in on the morning net; this morning's net, by contrast, had only 5 boats at sea but we know lots are leaving NZ next week so we should see numbers increase quite dramatically. It's comforting to talk to other boats on long ocean passages; the obvious safety element is augmented by useful comparisons of weather at different locations on route and the entertainment of shared news and chat.

Leaving New Zealand

We just left Opua at the start of an 8 day passage to Tonga. Very sad to leave but we're looking forward to the warmth of the Tropics again!

The weather prediction isn't brilliant for us - a couple of days of very little wind to start but we hope to pick up some nice south-easterlies on Saturday. We really ummed and aaghed about whether to wait for the next weather window (in about a week's time) but eventually decided to go for it. Just hope the swell isn't too bad as we're motoring out!

We'll update the blog with news as the passage progresses.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Which way now?

A long way from home

Hello from Opua on a sunny Anzac Day!

Our latest forecast suggests that we might be able to leave on Wednesday so we're working towards that; the extra days give us time for a few more jobs whilst we're connected to electricity in the marina (the sewing machine is currently out for a few tasks).

We thought we should let you know where we plan to go this year. You may remember that our original plan was for a 3-year circumnavigation, so we'd be leaving here to go to northern Australia then across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and on to Brazil, the Caribbean and home (in the summer of 2015). Well our plans, like those of a lot  of boats here,  have changed a little! The Pacific islands are so beautiful that we decided it would be a terrible shame to rush on past them without having time to visit places like Fiji (particularly as it's unlikely we'll get down here again in a boat). So we have decided to add a year to our journey.

This season, therefore, we'll head back to Tonga (with a visit to the remote and beautiful Ha-apai group of islands, which we didn't have time to see last year) and then head west to Fiji where there are around 300 islands to explore and a whole new culture to get to know. Out in the Fijian islands, visiting yachts still have to make the 'Sevusevu' - presenting a gift of Kava root to the chief of the village and in return being given the welcome and protection of the villagers. Depending on time we might then head to Vanuatu and New Caledonia but, whatever the route, we'll return to New Zealand in November for another NZ summer and more exploration, of North Island this time, in the car and tent.

So, for the first time since we left England, our voyaging won't driven by the need to keep moving ever westwards towards a destination by a certain time and it'll afford us the luxury of being able to choose to linger in places that we really like. This 'island loop' is quite common for NZ-based boats so we'll no doubt meet other yachts, who are currently here, en route. 

The excitement of an imminent departure is tinged with a little sadness that some of our sailing friends will be setting off with different destinations in mind. Quite a few boats are heading straight to Vanuatu and then across to Australia and north into Indonesia so we'll be sorry to say farewell.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Testing, Testing, Testing

Things are looking more positive here on Maunie - and thanks so much for the supportive emails which were hugely appreciated!

Gorgeous Easter Monday sailing

On Monday we went out for a great test sail in the Bay of Islands and we could tell Maunie was pleased to be allowed out after nearly 3 months on the mooring. We anchored for lunch and then Graham donned wetsuit, mask and snorkel to check under the waterline. We'd been warned that the mooring's proximity to a number of mussel farms in the river would result in some unwanted guests clinging to the hull but overall things we're pretty good. The fancy yellow Propspeed coating on the propeller has done a brilliant job and our faithful Coppercoat antifouling had a thin layer of slime, easily scrubbed off, and a few barnacles with a very light grip on the hull. The shock was the huge growth of creatures on the fridge cooling plates and the radio grounding plate, which are all bronze but which can't be painted with antifouling. It took quite a few dives and some hard work with a scraper to get them cleaned off and Graham was pretty cold by the end.

We ran the watermaker whilst we were out in the clean water of the bay and it seems fine so our little test sail was a success - we even remembered how to do it!

We're now in the marina for a few days and as soon as the businesses open after the Easter break we took our poorly water pump to a company called Sea Power. Within an hour it had been completely rebuilt, with new bearings and seal, (brilliant service) and is now fitted back to the generator.

A new lease of life for the water pump, with the old bearings and seal
So all's looking good but we're still trying to figure out the weather forecasts. The possible weather window on Saturday is looking a little less promising so we'll wait for the next weather update. Meanwhile Stormvogel has just arrived up from Whangarei, looking very smart with new cockpit canvas and very highly polished paint, so it was good to catch up with Heidi and Peter last night.

Well, better get on with the list of little (e.g. time consuming) jobs..

Friday, 18 April 2014

Harbours rot both ships and men!

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.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A wild night

Just to report that we survived the gale, though it was a wild night. At 03.00 a really huge gust hit us just as the boat was being pushed by the incoming tide - it hit us from the side and we rolled heavily, with a few loose books hitting the floor with a crash. A very quick wake-up!

The rain has been lashing us for most of the night but our deck-leak fixes seem to have been successful. Hurrah! The wind's still to high to go ashore in the dinghy (which, incidentally is more than half-full of rain water) but the forecast suggests it should abate pretty quickly this afternoon. Might need an afternoon nap after last night!

Testing the Sikaflex and the mooring

The remains of Cyclone Ita, which gave Northern Queensland a pasting a couple of days ago, has arrived of the west coast of North Island. With a high pressure system to the south east the 'squash zone' in between will be particularly unpleasant.

This is the GRIB file (the system we use to download wind and pressure forecasts via the satellite phone) for tonight. The closer the isobars the more wind and, being in the southern hemisphere, the winds revolve the opposite way around highs and lows. So the low is bringing north-easterlies to us here in the NE of north island and the high is pushing easterlies in from further south. 

The result, at the moment, is driving rain and gusty winds which are forecast to peak at up to 60 kmh in the early hours of the morning. A good test of all our work to fix deck leaks!

Thankfully our mooring is close to a steep wooded hill to windward so it's doing a fine job of providing shelter from the biggest gust; hope we'll sleep though it.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Entertainment in Auckland

We've just returned from a weekend's break from the boat work - a trip down to Auckland to see Billy Connolly in concert. We stopped in town in the morning to pick up some post and Billy walked past us, on what he described n the gig, as his 'daily stroll'. He was brilliantly funny in concert, though used quite a lot of his old stories that we'd seen on DVD, re-told with twist.

We stayed with friends Tony & Claire and met Tony's folks, Wendy and Warren. They've done a lot of sailing around the Pacific islands and, bless them, have lent us a huge roll of charts for Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Wendy and Warren don't have a boat any more but live in something way better - a motorhome. Not just any motorhome, though - have a look at this! Video

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A little taste of Somerset and yogurt production begins on Maunie

Boat jobs are progressing steadily here in Opua. We've been blessed with brilliant autumn sunshine so have been able to get on with fair-weather jobs, such as replacing some sections of weathered caulking (the black sealant) on the teak decks. The great news is that our replacement Windpilot (Winnie 2) arrived safely from Hamburg, though the complexities of Customs meant a trip down to clear it through customs and collect it ourselves from Auckland Airport. All being well it should be fitted to Maunie this afternoon. 

A fine drop of the Old Cloudy
The good weather has also allowed us to empty lockers below, give them a proper clean and airing and we've reorganised stowage. In one locker we found a wonderful reminder of our lovely house in Somerset - a last bottle of apple juice. The garden has a small orchard of six apple trees and a couple of pear trees so each autumn we would have a busy few weekends crushing and pressing apples to make wonderful juice; we'd fill it into 2 litre milk cartons and fill a freezer with them. However we also discovered an enterprising local called Rocky who whould come and collect bags of apples, make juice which he would pasteurise and bottle, and then send a proportion of 'our' juice back to us (he collected apples fromquite a few small orchards and gardens). He would sell the remaining juice cover his costs and make a little profit. It was one of Rocky's bottles (from the 2011 crop) that we've transported half way around the world and we're glad to report that it has travelled well!

Meanwhile, yogurt production has begun aboard Maunie. Planning ahead, we know that decent yogurt is impossible to find in Tonga (and probably Fiji too) so we've tried a New Zealand brand called Easy-Yo which sells sachets of a milk power/ culture / sugar / flavour mix to which you add water and then incubate overnight in what's effectively a large vacuum flask of hot water. The test results so far have been encouraging; nowhere near as good as Yeo Valley, of course, but pretty good. 

News on our voyaging plans to follow very soon (once we know what they might be!); we'll be leaving at the end of April for Tonga but are just talking to other boat crews about routes and timings.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

There's ay some bloody thing!

We're back aboard Maunie and were delighted to find her in very good order after her (and our) 2 month holiday. Whilst we were away a local sailor, Mike, came out to the mooring to check on her weekly and he emailed us a condition report each time - when cyclone Ian blew through here a couple of weeks ago he also came and had a good look at her through his binoculars! Our mooring was well-sheltered but other boats weren't so lucky; a few had sails and covers ripped and the car ferry came adrift from its overnight mooring and damaged a couple of nearby yachts, including Liberty VI who seemed to follow us (enjoying Dianne and Heidi's night time VHF conversations!) on several Pacific passages.

After a brilliant car and tent journey it's great to be home! However, we're back to some boat work and Graham's father's favourite boat saying, "There's ay some bloody thing!" (to be spoken in a Scottish accent),  is being much used, along with "It's a boat!" (to be spoken in an exasperated accent). For example:

We'd decided to tackle a simple-sounding job, to add some permanent mountings for the solar panel on the cabin roof - we'd had it lashed in place with rope and the cable just trailed back into the cockpit to a deck socket. It worked fine but offended Graham's engineering senses and looked a bit Heath Robinson. Thanks to a chat with the guys in the local chandlery (who are proper sailors and so give great, practical advice) we came up with the idea of using stong polycarbonate hinges rather than stainless steel brackets to make the job of aligning the panel with the curved roof much easier. Of course, this meant drilling bolt holes through the roof so the headlining in the cabin had to come down and we took great care to make sure that the bolt holes were very well sealed to prevent water ingress. 

Chaos below
New fittings to raise the panel clear of the ropes

This of course was just part of the project - a new cable gland was needed (a waterproof socket, bolted to the roof, through which the power cable was threaded) and the cable had to be threaded through various very small spaces down to the charge controller next to the batteries beneath our bunk. All in all about an 8-hour job but were pleased with the result.

However, whilst we had the headlining down we investigated an annoying drip from the back of the cabin roof and eventually found that the sealant around the bolts fastening the mainsheet traveller had hardened and cracked allowing capilliary action to draw rainwater (and sea water in bad weather!) through into the cabin. Getting the whole thing prised up, cleaned and resealed was a bit of a challenge.

A large lever and lots of muttering were required to lift the alloy fitting from its resting place of 17 years
A third, minor, leak had also been spotted last time we sailed in rough seas so, whilst we were in the mood (though noticeable less enthusiastic by this time), we removed one of the deck hatches and resealed it; a process known as "gobbering up with Sikaflex" by an old sailing friend. 

The hatch removed and the deck masked up ready for gobbering up
Sikaflex is an amazing adhesive / sealant that's almost guaranteed to end up on your clothes and skin, no matter how careful you are with it. Once there nothing will remove it apart from time and vigorous scrubbing. Graham now wears two pairs of latex gloves so when he gets all sticky he can peel off the outer pair and continue working.

So, finally (and all this was a 2-day project) we refitted the headlining and tidied the boat up, just as torrential rain arrived. Our smug satisfaction at several jobs well done was soon shattered when a drip arrived, swiftly followed by quite a few of its friends. How could this be after all our careful work with the Sikaflex?

Once more the headlining came down to reveal the source of the water - the cable gland for the older solar panel on the roof. A rubber o-ring seal had perished and split allowing water to find its way past the threaded fitting.

The leaking deck gland

The cause - a UV-degraded o-ring seal
Replacing it involved removing the cable, prising the whole fitting from the deck to disassemble it, fitting a new o-ring, reassembly and, of course, more application of Sikaflex before replacing the headlining. Time to complete all this? Three hours! It's a boat!!