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.

Sunday, 29 March 2015


This time last year we were in Auckland for the celebration of a big birthday. This year it's a quieter affair but lovely nonetheless.

We anchored last night in the Kerikeri inlet, at the north end of the Bay of Islands, and enjoyed a wonderful sunset. This morning dawned cloudy and drizzly but the day improved as we sailed south back towards Russell, the small port town that was briefly the capital of New Zealand and, apparently, a den of inequity back in the 19th Century. We'd planned a meal at the Duke of Marlborough, the oldest pub in NZ (1827) but the south-westerly wind made the anchorage a lee shore (the wind blowing the boat towards the shore) so we opted to return to our mooring in Opua and had a fab meal aboard instead. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Out in the Bay of Islands

We seem to be struggling a little to get back our momentum. We guess that the trip back to Britain, lovely though it was, has unsettled us a little, reinforcing the 'long way from home' feeling that didn't bother us to any great extent before we flew back. The colds ("it's flu, I tell you") that we're only just shaking off haven't helped much.

However, we're definitely getting back into our stride and have just had a few days out in the beautiful Bay of Islands, anchored in deserted bays enjoying the wildlife and the views. On our way we passed the Cunard cruise liner, Queen Mary 2 anchored near the town of Russell; we last saw her in St Lucia so she gets about Mind you, come to think of it, so do we).

The imposing profile of the QM2

We anchored for a couple of nights in Te Hue Bay, also known as 'Assassination Cove', so named after the French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne and 26 of his crew met an untimely end (and were eaten) at the hands of the local Maori tribe in 1772. The oft-quoted reason was that De Fresne offended the Maori by fishing in a tapu (sacred and forbidden) area but, according to an fascinating account on Wikipedia, the story is more complex and the surviving crew members had to fights a battle with 1500 Maoris to escape - have a look at the story here

Sunset at Te Hue Bay

Evening highlights

Having just completed a supermarket run in the nearest reasonably-sized town, Kerikeri (population just 5,800) we're stocked up again for a few more days of island cruising. The weather is definitely a little autumnal and the first of the south-westerly autumn gales is forecast for the weekend but we're still in shorts and t-shirts in the daytime and we'll go and explore some new anchorages.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Sometime you just need a man with a huge tool

We're safely back aboard our home now, after a couple of days in Auckland - many thanks to Trish & Ian and Tony & Claire for looking after us in our jet-lagged state! Graham's cold wasn't much fun for either of us ('It's 'flu I tell you!") and in spite of our best hopes, he seems to now have passed it to Dianne. Oops.

On our last afternoon in the city we walked down to the Volvo boats again and bumped into Dee Caffari, one of the crew of the all-women SCA team. She's an ocean racing superstar: the only woman to race around the globe 3 times (twice single-handed, once each way), with four transatlantic crossings under her belt. We met her once before in the UK and she also sailed on the Challenge 72' yachts (just before we raced them around the UK) so we didn't feel too much like yachting fans when we accosted her as she walked back towards her hotel. She was really chatty and friendly and said the team was still very buoyed up by the in-harbour race win on Saturday but that the leg ahead, across the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, was weighing on the minds of those who'd never crossed this remote piece of ocean. We've been following their progress on the www.volvooceanrace.com website since Wednesday's start - brilliant photos and video coverage but we certainly don't envy them!

Anyway, back on our own little ocean racer, we've had a busy few days. (Sorry - a bit of technical stuff ahead.) You may remember reading that before we left for the UK we'd had some expensive engine maintenance done but that we were still slightly perplexed that the motor wasn't performing as it should. Well, long story told quickly, we came to the conclusion that our fancy Autoprop feathering propeller was set-up incorrectly (and had been since it was fitted 5 years ago) so its pitch was too 'coarse' - in other words it was like trying to drive a car up a hill in top gear, the engine failing to reach the higher revs where the power lies. Emails to the makers in the UK yielded the response that they could grind a different profile onto the blades to resolve the problem so we booked a lift-out on Friday to remove the prop and temporally fit the old, fixed-bladed one in its place.

To save a lot of money, we opted for what's known as a' lift-and-hold' with the boatyard - Maunie would be lifted out of the water, pressure-washed and then we'd have about 40 minutes to do the job before being re-launched. This would leave little margin for error and Graham awoke the night before worrying about it - what would happen if the Autoprop wouldn't come off the shaft? Would the old prop fit ok and would the newly-purchased nut (to hold it in place) prove to be the right size? As it transpired, he was right to be worried.

The lift-out went fine but we just couldn't get the prop to come off the shaft, in spite of the fact that it slid off easily in Fiji last September; perhaps the colder temperatures had something to do with it? With time ticking away, we made an emergency call to a local business called Seapower and, thankfully, the owner, Bruce, arrived a few minutes later with a huge tool - a 'prop-puller'

Bruce and Graham apply the huge tool

With an almighty bang, the prop freed its limpet-like grip on the shaft but we found that the tool had, in the process, damaged the threads (for the retaining nut) on the shaft. Bruce dashed back to his workshop for a die to repair the threads as we studiously avoided making eye-contact with the boatyard guys, who were glancing at their watches and at the row of boats waiting to be launched. Ten minutes later, thread was repaired and the old propeller was fitted, only for us to find that the castellated nut (with slots in it to take a locking split-pin) was too long for the slots to line up with the hole drilled in the shaft to take the pin. Aaargh! Bruce dashed back again to put the nut on his lathe and finally. 30 minutes late, it was all done and we were relaunched. Phew, wouldn't want to go through that again..

The Autoprop is now on its way to its makers and we returned Maunie to her mooring for some other boat jobs. The biggest and most complex has been to wire in a pure-sine-wave inverter (which converts 12v DC power from the solar panels and batteries into 240v AC) to allow us, among other things, to run our 240v bread-maker off solar power rather than having to run the diesel generator. The results of this 3-hour job, which involved lots of 'bilge-ratting', are mostly hidden from view but Maunie has a new remote-switch in her aft cabin to show for it:

All of this DIY stuff is enough to test any relationship but we've managed to maintain our sanity throughout - Di's very good at asking the right questions before we get the drill and saw out so the project went without a hitch and, unusually, with no swear words from Graham!

Jobs completed, we're off for a few days of sailing in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Still, after the lovely time we had catching up with family and friends in the UK, we are feeling a long way away out here and would love to hear from you all back home - e mails always excitedly received!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Return to NZ (slowly)

Our final destination on our UK tour, having dropped the car off and waved a fond farewell to Karl & Jo who had gone way beyond the call of duty to help us, was near Southwold in Suffolk, reached by train. We stayed for two nights with Jenny & Richard (Jenny joined Marks & Spencer as a graduate trainee at the same time as Dianne, back in the day) and had a great time with Martha, Henry and Di's Godson Jasper. Graham was delighted to give lots of cuddles to Kipper and Chutney, the cats, too.

With (l-r) Martha, Jasper & Henry

With Jenny (photo by Martha)
We left on Thursday afternoon for the train & tube ride to Heathrow for the start of the planned 34-hour, two-stop (Abu Dhabi and Sydney) trip to Auckland. Unfortunately it didn't go entirely to plan and we had to get a later flight from Abu Dhabi to Perth instead, which added about 12 hours to the voyage; luckily the airline, Etihad, were brilliant throughout what could have been a rather stressful time and put us into a hotel so that we could get a meal and about 5 hours' sleep. The connecting Etihad flight to Perth was pretty empty so the stewardess led us forward so that we had an empty 4-seat row each and so managed some more, relatively comfortable sleep.

Anyway, we arrived in Auckland at dawn on Sunday after nearly 48 hours in airplane-land, less jet-lagged than expected thanks to the stop-over but with Graham showing the symptoms of man-flu (for the first time in 3 years!) after such close proximity with the travelling hoards. He's got it bad.

Our arrival coincided with the passing of Cyclone Pam but conditions haven't been at all bad, considering the devastation she's wreaked in Vanuatu. The restart of the Volvo Ocean Race has been postponed to allow sea conditions to subside so we walked down to the Viaduct area on the waterfront to see the boats.

The Volvo Open 60's are identical boats so it's all down to the skill and tactics of the crews to  beat their opponents, rather than the size of their team budgets
The pink boat is Team SCA, the only all-women crew, which won the in-port, round-the-buoys race on Saturday. No doubt there were a few bruised male egos!

The delayed start (originally scheduled for Sunday) must have come as a huge disappointment to the Auckland City organisers who had planned a huge razzmatazz send-off for the fleet. Inevitably a week-day restart will be a less busy affair. 

 We'll go back to the Race Village today so see what the latest news is - if the restart takes place tomorrow we'll try to find a good vantage point before driving back 'home' to Maunie on Wedneday. After 6 weeks away, we're looking forward to getting back to her.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A couple of amazing slices of history

As mentioned in the last blog update, we made a stop in Buckinghamshire to meet up with Richard Fetherston (you'll remember him as one of the Atlantic Crossing crew) and his lovely partner Naomi. It was just great to see Richard again. Their cottage is currently being renovated so they recommended the aptly-named Jo So Cottage in the small market town of Winslow as a B&B.

400 years of character

The dining room and kitchen
 The cottage has been beautifully restored and has three en-suite bedrooms. The owner, Anna, lives next door and we were the only guests so had the place to ourselves. Anna came in to cook us a seriously good breakfast so we ended up staying there for 2 nights; she recommended that we visit nearby Bletchley Park.

We were so pleased that we took up her suggestion. For those not familiar with the name, BP (as it was known to the 9,000 service personnel and civilians who worked there during WW2) was the ultra-secret centre of code-breaking where huge amounts of ingenuity, brain-power and technology went into the process of breaking the supposedly unbreakable German Enigma and Lorenz codes. The work that went on there was classified Top Seret until the late 1970's but has now become widely understood to have shortened the war by about 2 years. The brilliant mathematician Alan Turing was one of the central players there and his work has recently become the main story of the film The Imitation Game.

BP has now become a museum, with a huge amount of effort and money spent to restore some of the code-breakers' huts to their WW2 condition. You get a very clear idea of what went on there and we spent a whole day learning about it all; thoroughly recommended if you are ever near Milton Keynes.

Bletchley Park house

Some of the restored huts. The team in each hut focused on just one part of the huge jigsaw of breaking the German and Japanese codes and people there would have no idea what went on in the neighbouring huts.

B Block, now home to an excellent Enigma museum
A working replica of Alan Turing's 'Bombe', an electro-mechanical device which helped crack the encryption settings (changed daily) on the German Enigma machines

Rear view of the Bombe

A statue of Turing with an Enigma machine
Recognition of BP as the birthplace of British computers
A huge machine, aptly named Colossus, was built here to crack the even more sophisticated Lorenz code and this has become recognised as the world's first electronic computer.

When the war ended, the teams were dispersed and the people returned to academia or civilian life with strict instructions not to divulge to anyone just what they had done at BP. It was only as the secrets became declassified some thirty years later that they could talk about what they had done and the museum features recordings and videos of many of these amazing people. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Northern Loop

The weather might have been cold but the warmth of the welcome that we've received 'up North' has been wonderful. We've loved the proper English pubs, traditional fish 'n' chips, meet up with family and friends and even had some snow.

We spent a lovely few days with Di's Dad, sister Norma and Mick and caught up with nephews and their families in Hambleton, near Blackpool. Whilst there we met for the first time our great-nephew Freddie and great-niece Eve - not sure how we feel about being Great Aunt and Great Uncle (makes us feel only slightly old!) but it was a joy to meet the new members of the family.

Signs of Spring - Crocuses in the Poulton le Fylde churchyard

Di and her Dad

The G.A/U.'s with Eve

A meal with Di's school friends Debbie (plus, hubby, Paul), Jane and Eileen illustrated the fact that real friends just pick up from where they left off, even if that was three years ago; something we've experienced again and again.

Nephew Gary at work in his studio
The move up to Galloway saw us apart for the first time in 3 years - Graham drove up for a couple of extra days with his parents and Di followed by train a couple of days later to allow her to have quality time with her family (and a great send-off). Just before Graham left we called in to see nephew Gary at work in his studio - have a look at his website to see what kind of magic he does with a paintbrush HERE

Whilst in Scotland we saw Graham's sister Hilary and her husband Phil. Hilary's another hugely talented artist and does wonderful portraits of pets; if you're short of a present idea have a look HERE

From Scotland we drove east to County Durham, with a tourist stop at the very good Roman Army Museum on Hadrian's Wall, to stay with Simon and Julie in Hamsterley. Simon was in the same graduate intake as Graham in his first job with Northern Foods and, like us, is following his dream. He's always wanted to make cheese so has now set up The Weardale Cheese Company (you heard of it here first, folks); if his enthusiasm is anything to go by, it'll be the great success that he deserves.

Proud man and his pasteuriser (on a non-production day so no white coat and hat)

Cheese maker and glamourous assistant - you decide which is which!
Whilst we were in the north east we were treated to a dusting of snow just to make the winter tour complete:

We'll be back in warm NZ soon!!
The 'Northern Loop' concluded with a night in our old village of Crich, Derbyshire, where we stayed with our friends Neil and Jacqui. Slightly strange to see our old house (we left there in 1999).

The Pump House, Dimple Lane
 We're now heading south, back towards Somerset. En route we've stayed in a beautiful 400 year old cottage and visited Bletchley Park, possibly one of the most important places in Britain during WW2. This deserves a blog all of its own so watch this space.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

This is Ardwall

Our last two boats, Gentoo and Maunie, have had the 'of Ardwall' tail added to their names. You can pretty much call your boat 'of anywhere' but most people who use the addition (it's entirely optional) will choose their home port. 

'Our' Ardwall is named after a small island in the Solway Firth in Galloway, south-west Scotland. It was here that Graham learnt to sail (at the age of six) with his father, Geoff, in a National 12 racing dinghy. This was a boat not well-suited to beginners (it was said they'd roll over if placed on a field of wet grass) but despite the archaic rig of shorts, rugby jersey and life-jacket Graham survived the early and regular unexpected cold swims to grow to love sailing.

Ardwall was also the placed where Dianne first sailed with Graham - for a few years we sailed a madly-fast Dart 18 racing catamaran here and Di was equally stoic about sailing in these chilly waters (she did have a dry-suit, though!). So Ardwall Island but was the start of a long sailing journey that has led us to voyage to New Zealand. 

Our 'Shivering Sailors' tour has now taken us to Scotland, despite rather wintry weather, Graham and Geoff managed a walk along the coast with Ardwall visible a couple of miles away. With Maunie of Ardwall moored thousands of miles away in Opua, it was a poignant sight.

Ardwall in the distance (to the left of the buoy rope)

A closer view of the island, with wading birds in the foreground