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, 28 January 2015

Our last sail for a while - and regaining Maunie's balance

We excited and slightly stressed - there are various lists being added to and ticked off as we prepare to leave Maunie safely on her mooring in Opua (with regular checks by Mike, a local chap who looked after her for us last year when we were exploring South Island by car) to fly home to our first taste of winter in three years. How will we cope?!

Anyway we took time out for a really good day-sail on Monday out in the Bay of Islands. With a good Force 4 (about 16-18 knots) to beat into, it was the ideal test to see if we'd improved Maunie's balance.

Sorry, for non-sailors, this post will be a bit full of boat-speak but hope it'll make sense.

Most of our voyaging from England has been with the assistance of the Trade Winds pushing us along from behind but the passage down to NZ from Fiji was nearly all to windward, with the sails hauled in tight and the boat heeling over. The 8 days gave us time to experiment with the setting of the sails and the balance of the boat and we came to the conclusion that Maunie just wasn't really happy in these conditions. All monohulls have a degree of 'weather helm' which means that if you let go of the wheel or tiller they will turn into the wind and stop. Too much weather helm isn't good as the rudder starts to act as a brake and it's just tiring to steer.

We were finding that Maunie just didn't feel properly balanced and that we had to reef the mainsail earlier than expected to ease the pressure on the wheel. The yankee (the front sail) was hard work to winch in and just felt too powerful for us in anything above about 15 knots of wind.

So on our arrival in Opua (and with the benefit of experience of being here before and knowing whom to turn to) we talked to a couple of local experts and explained our thoughts. The first was Roger Hall of North Sails who's been sailmaker for about 30 years and runs the repair loft in Opua pretty much single-handed. He came aboard, looked at the rig and said "The yankee clew should come to about here when you're going to windward.", pointing at a spot astern of the mast and above the cabin top. The clew is the back corner of the sail where the sheets (ropes) are attached, by the way.

"Ok, but it actually comes to here" said Graham, pointing to a spot about a foot further astern and a foot below Roger's pointing finger.

"Graham, you're not listening to me, it should come to here!" said Roger, his finger unmoved. 

It's probably easier to explain with a photo. 

Maunie is cutter-rigged, which means she has two foresails, the yankee and the staysail. Normally in these rigs the yankee is shaped 'high' so that the bottom edge rises up from the bow. Stormvogel's yankee is a perfect example:

Stormvogel beating to windward with the yankee and staysail complementing each other 

Maunie's yankee was much more like a genoa (the foresail of a sloop which has no staysail) as you can see from Jo Murtagh's great helicopter photo:

Maunie's lower and larger yankee

We took the sail off the boat and laid it out in Roger's sail loft where he took measurements and inspected the sail closely. The yankee was still in amazingly good condition so he felt it was worth investing some time to re-cut it. Using a computer programme which allowed the sail to be shown in its curved state, rotated at any viewing angle,  he came up with a revised shape which would sacrifice about 8% of the sail area but should achieve a better-balanced sailplan. We took a brave pill and said ok, let's do it.

Meanwhile we weren't entirely happy with the rigging either. Just before we left the UK we were advised to replace a spacing bar on the forestay, just below the roller-reefing drum.

The replacement spacer....

....also just visible below the furler drum - the line to the left rotates the drum when pulled so rolling the sail up like a blind

The design of the original had been known to fail without warning after a few years so this was definitely good advice. However, Graham had become increasingly certain that the new spacer had been made about an inch too long and so the mast was raked (leaning) back too much.

Step forward expert number two, Paul Smith who has just set up his own rigging business, NZ Yacht Services, in Opua. We worked with him last year when he was with a bigger rigging company and knew he had a very good reputation. Paul climbed aboard and had a good look at the mast and rigging and agreed with Graham. "We should get better forestay tension and the weather helm should reduce if we shorten the spacer by 20mm", he said, so that's what we did.

So, Monday's sail was the first proper test of our theories and would tell us whether the best past of £550 had been spent wisely.

The re-cut yankee, setting well

All three sails nicely set
We're delighted to report total success! Maunie felt beautifully balanced and for the first time could be helmed with just two fingers on the wheel. We were able to carry the full mainsail in wind strengths were we would have previously had to put in a reef and the slightly smaller yankee tacked around the front of the staysail much more easily (it used to get stuck mid-tack) and was easier to winch in. 

So much relief that this has all worked and we're indebted to Roger and Paul for their advice and skills.

Now we just have to resolve the puzzle of the under-revving engine, but that's another story for another time.

Better get back to the lists and the packing!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Six Go Mad in Tongariro - Part 2

There may be trouble ahead.....
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging hike - 19.4km, climbing to 1850m above sea level and skirting around a volcano that last erupted in 2012. Nevertheless, it has become one of NZ's most popular day hikes with around 80,000 people doing it each year (and about two a week being helicoptered off!). We took local advice and, having left a car at the finish point the night before, arrived at the start at 06.00 to be ahead of the groups who arrive by bus. 

We were incredibly lucky to have almost perfect weather conditions - light winds and clear skies - and, although the start was a bit of a shock at only 4 degrees centigrade, the walking was pretty straightforward. The photos will, we hope, give you an idea:

The start of the trail, fleeces and long trousers needed. Di borrowed a walking pole from Shona and found it great as a guard against possible unplanned helicopter rides.
Early morning sun throwing long shadows as we climb
High-altitude vegetation
Resting, with the cone of Ngaurahoe (2287m) behind us
Looking back across the Southern Crater - the track from top-centre to bottom left is clearly visible
Scaling Mt Ngaurahoe is possible but it's a scramble up scree and adds 3 hours to the hike, so we didn't bother.
The 'Armageddon Light' - as in "Armageddon out of here!" if it flashes!
The Red Crater
A feature known as a dike in the side of the Red Crater. It was formed when molten magma moved to the surface through a vertical channel in the crater wall. It was left hollow as the magma drained out from its base and, being harder than the surrounding scoria, has been exposed by wind  and rain erosion.
Descending towards the Emerald Lakes - the very loose surface makes it a slippery slope
Steam venting near the Emerald Lakes
At the Emerald Lakes, looking back up to the Red Crater
Looking back towards the Red Crater, with Ngauruhoe behind
The Te Maari crater steaming gently. In 2012 it erupted without warning,,,,,
.... and hurled football-size rocks through the roof of the hikers' hut 1.5km away. Luckily no-one was sleeping there that night

.. and say a few prayers!
So, after just over nine hours we descended into the forest and wearily climbed into the car. A cream tea at the nearby Chateau Hotel revived us en route back to the cottage at the end of a fantastic day. Strangely enough, the trains didn't disturb our sleep that night!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Six Go Mad in Tongariro - Part 1

We've just spent a magical but exhausting few days in Tongariro National Park with Lionel & Irene (Kiapa) and Damian & Kerry (Sel Citron). We shared a great little holiday house for three days in a village called, slightly confusingly, National Park.

No 12 Railway Cottage
The name of the house should have probably tipped us off as to the proximity of the main rail line from Auckland to Wellington but the noise of five huge freight trains each night meant that we weren't completely rested for the rigours of the outdoor events that lay ahead.

Tongariro National Park lies south west of Lake Taupo in the middle of North Island and is an active volcanic region. In winter it's a great skiing area and in summer thousands of people come to attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which has become known as New Zealand's finest one-day hike (some superlative in a country full of wonderful hiking tracks). Good weather is vital for the Crossing, which peaks at 1850m altitude, so we decided that Wednesday would be our day to attempt it and that we'd hire mountain bikes on the Tuesday.

Irene, Damian and Graham took the brave pills to ride 'The 42', a 44km route that's described as 'demanding'. Actually, Irene told us that it was 'mostly downhill' so the profile map at the start of it came as a bit of a shock:

Mostly downhill, huh? What about those uphill bits, Irene?!

At the start, no turning back now as the van & trailer departs

Graham on one of the river crossings
It was certainly a tough cycle, with rough tracks and slippery surfaces but was Graham's best -ever mountain bike experience.

Meanwhile, the Sensible Crew (Lionel, Dianne and Kerry) decided it was more important to have arms and legs in one piece ready for the following day so did the slightly less demanding but wonderfully scenic Fishers Track, which took about three hours to complete.

This really was mostly downhill!
A driftwood sculpture by a British artist at the end of the trail
The two parties returned to the house for showers, supper and an early night, hoping (in vain, as it turned out) for a less train-disturbed night before a very early start on the Tongariro Crossing. More to follow on this adventure in Part 2.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Old friends and new - the Gatehouse of Fleet connection

We had a super weekend in the town of Tauranga, about 3 hours drive from Auckland on the east coast, staying with Shona and Malcolm. They are friends from the UK, working out here for two years and Graham first met Shona about 40 years ago, holidaying in Scotland near the town of Gatehouse of Fleet where his parents now live.

They took us on a beautiful five-hour hike through the forest around Lake Tarawera, near Rotarua. The walk ended at Hot Water Beach for a swim and to discover the reason for the name; the whole area is still very volcanically active and the sand a couple of inches below the water, when we dug our fingers into it, was too hot to touch!

Post walk wallowing

Shona and Dianne on the high-speed water taxi across the lake back to the car
With us on the walk were Roger and Janet, originally from Suffolk but NZ residents for the past 11 years. They own a Kiwi Fruit orchard and we joined them for a bbq in the evening. In the course of the day we discovered that Roger not only knows Gatehouse of Fleet very well but is great friends with the next-door neighbours of Graham's parents!

With Roger in his orchard

A good crop, which will be picked in May
 On the Sunday we walked up the Mount which guards the entrance to Tauranga Harbour for great views of the town and beach. 

Looking south towards Te Puke

The harbour entrance - the biggest container port on North Island 
Many thanks to Shona and Malcolm for a fun weekend and for good training for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike - details to follow.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The magnetic attraction of lighthouses

For us sailors, lighthouses are the road-signs of our coastal sailing. We try not to get too close, as they usually mark a rocky point or shallow patch best avoided but they are reassuring landmarks for us. At night we count the number of flashes to check their identities and are reassured that they confirm the position given by our (mostly) infallible GPS chart plotters. No doubt some Whitehall bean counters will suggest they be abandoned as redundant, last-century technology but let's hope that sense prevails.

When we're on a coastal walk, we're drawn to walking to lighthouses, to admire their open views of the sea and to think about all the other mariners who've sailed safely by. In our little road trip of the past week we've visited the most northerly light at Cape Reinga and, a couple of days ago, a redundant light at the entrance to Kaipara Harbour on the west coast.

Cape Reinga light - built in 1941 and automated in 1987

Kaipara light

The waves breaking in the distance show the location of the dangerous bar

Kaipara was, and still is, a treacherous place to navigate with a huge sand bar in the entrance and ever-shifting shallows within the harbour. If you have Google Earth do have a look at it, the sand dunes and coast are amazing - the coordinates are:

36 deg, 23.25 mins south
174 deg, 7.24 mins east

The first charts were drawn in the mid-1800's and the lighthouse was built around 1900. A small but busy community was built at Pouto Point which became a loading wharf for Kauri timber hauled from the huge forests to the north. The arrival of a railway to the town of Dargaville, some 60km further up the harbour, in 1947 spelled the end of the commercial activities in this remote village and the light was abandoned in the 1970's. Today the structure is maintained by volunteers who have to dig the encroaching sand dunes away from it fairly regularly.

Pouto campground

Our campsite in Pouto is our favourite to date. A small, level area of grass is big enough for perhaps 12 campervans and tents and the wooden hall, built as NZ's first customs house in the 1870's provides a great kitchen, showers and toilets. The place belongs to the community with volunteers running it as a not-for-profit entity; all the proceeds are ploughed back into maintaining the historic building. We'll definitely come back here. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Swimming in two seas

Our trip up to Cape Reinga at the northern tip of North Island has been pretty awesome - some great campsites and some strenuous hikes with wonderful views. Graham even managed to swim in the Tasman Sea (west side of the cape) and the Pacific Ocean (east side) on the same day. Di focused on the surf on the Pacific side, which was a challenging and exhillerating swim. Here are a few photos:

Sunset at a lovely beach-side camp, 5km east of Cape Reinga

A view of the camp, with its own surf beach, as we hike up towards the cape

The lighthouse. The promontory to the right is sacred to the Maori - it's the place where their spirits slide down the roots of a Puhutukawa tree to their spiritual home Hawaiki

Less spiritual work, perhaps. A Maori workman scrapes stickers thoughtfully added by backpackers and tourists to the inevitable signpost. London is, by the way, 18,029km as the crow flies.

The dramatic west coast, at the entrance to Hokianga harbour

A playful seal entertains us at our latest camp, on the southern tip of the northern entrance to the Kaipara harbour
We've driven south along the west coast, known as the Kauri Coast because some of the best forests of these imposing trees remain here after years of logging operations that almost wiped them out elsewhere. Tomorrow we'll stop at one of the surf beaches further south before heading through Auckland to meet up with friends in Tauranga. Thanks to the good weather and plenty of practice, camping on top of Horace the Honda has been a doddle and we've cooked some great suppers on the two-burner gas stove. We are now almost half-way through our self-imposed Alcohol-Free January and are coping remarkably well. However, judging by the photo below, Di's OCD is kicking in a bit:

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Land-cruising aboard Horace the Honda

We're off camping again in the car-tent combo, this time heading for the far north of North Island in (so far) wonderful sunshine.

First coffee of the day, Puketi Forest

A roadsign to make Dianne happy, Mangonui

The stunning Matai Bay, Karikari peninsula

Pahutakawa tree in full blossom
Di's being experimenting with her birthday present, a Lumix waterproof camera and is enjoying the challenge of both mastering it and trying to get a photo of Graham without his eyes closed

Looking slightly rugged after a few days' camping
We'll be on the road for a couple of weeks so will try to post some photos of new bits of NZ. Tomorrow we'll be at Cape Reinga at the very north tip of the island.