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.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Plumbing success

A trawl around the hardware stores in Savusavu told us that the 'push-fit' plumbing fittings on board Maunie are not used in this part of the world so we were pondering the options of how to fix our leaking water system. We looked at suppliers' websites in New Zealand and whether we could possibly ask a yacht still in Opua to bring parts up with them but were concerned as to whether we'd manage to order the right bits.

Anyway, a chance conversation with Colin on Ithaka yielded a wonderful result yesterday. "I've got a bag of various plumbing fittings" he said, "Probably nothing to fit your system but you are welcome to have a look.". Well, he had a 'Tee' and a 'Straight' connector of the right type, we had a length of the 15mm plastic pipe and, after a bit of a tussle, we now have a restored, leak-free water system again! Celebrated with cold showers yesterday afternoon. Lovely. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Photos from the passage

Dawn in the Savusavu anhorage. The yellow catamaran is our friends Sel Citron

We've had a busy couple of days since arriving in Fiji. Once again we've found that coming back to a previously-visited port makes things so much easier so we sorted the paperwork, got our internet and found some cold beers very quickly. It was great to see friends here, particularly when we saw Tom, Colin and Damian who were having a busy day transferring diesel in jerrycans to refuel their boats - they were hugely kind and delivered 100 litres to us too, saving us a lot of hassle. We celebrated that evening with good food and drink so slept very well!

The following morning we managed a team effort to take about a dozen gas bottles from 6 boats to be refilled so apart from effecting a repair to our water system (today's task) and solving an air leak on the dinghy (ditto) we feel we're doing pretty well. It's great to be back here.

Here are a few photos from the passage:

"Chafe is your enemy" - damaged spinnaker guy caused by the rope chafing in the end fitting of the pole on the first night 
Anti-chafe solution - a snatch block on a dyneema (tough rope) loop allows the rope to move a little without damage
A circling Albatross

A less-successful flight - a stranded flying fish

A Good Cloud, delivering rain (which missed us) and some wind

Evening light, with a crescent moon just visible at the top of the photo
We plan to be here a couple more days - we're waiting for our cruising permit which should arrive on Monday, we hope - so we'll visit the brilliant vegetable market this morning to stock up on greens.

Finally we received some wonderful news from home this morning - we are Great Aunt and Great Uncle once again with the arrival of Erin Florence to Di's nephew Paul and his wife Kaylie. Congratulations to them both!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Safely arrived in Savusavu

We had a great night's sailing up through the islands and arrived here at 10.15 local time. We're tied up at the Quarantine dock waiting for the officials to come and clear us in. Lovely to be still after a few slightly bouncy days at sea!
More to follow in the next day or two once we've got internet access via Vodafone.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Trundling northwards

We're 30 hours into the passage and making nice, steady progress towards Fiji. The wind is dead behind us so, apart from some rolling in the waves, it's pretty effortless sailing – just trundling along. We debated long and hard about putting the spinnaker up this morning but the forecast for tomorrow is for more wind so going faster today wouldn't benefit us in the long term and it stayed in its bag; at the moment the chart plotter is calculating our arrival at about 04.00 on Thursday so we'll need to slow down a bit if anything.
The route between here and Savuavu has a number of reefs and islands, often not marked with lights, that we'll be passing during tomorrow night. We've chosen a route to leave the island of Gau to starboard with then a dog-leg right and left up to Savusavu, leaving Koro Island to starboard. There's often a bit of a 'squash zone' between the two big islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu so our night watches will be a bit busier than the have been recently, particularly with fishing boats and cargo ships to look out for too. As usual we are updating http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall every day at around 1900 UTC and we'll probably add a couple of extra reports as we go through the islands so you can follow our course.

Monday, 25 May 2015

About to resume the journey

After a very relaxing weekend's break in the North Minerva Resort, with 17 other boats, we are about to set sail again – as soon as the bread rolls come out of the oven.
The time here allowed us to recharge batteries (ours and Maunie's) and we've eaten well and banked some good sleep. Di has baked some moral-boosting choc chop cookies (thanks for the recipe, Clare Murtagh!) so we're good to go. The passage ahead is still 420 miles, so just under 3 days; we always underestimate the length of this voyage from NZ to Fiji and have to remind ourselves that it's the equivalent of about two fifths of an Atlantic Crossing and probably more testing in terms of weather systems.
Talking of the weather, it did exactly what was promised last night – at about midnight the weather front crossed over us, bringing rain, squally winds and a very quick change in direction from NE to SW. So we should have good 18-20 knot following winds to push us up to Savusavu – we aim to arrive there early on Thursday morning local time. Our route takes us past some small islands and reefs in the Koro Sea so there will be some careful navigation; at least the moon will be bigger to help us at night.
Once again the SSB radio has been well used in the past couple of days. Yesterday a boat called Pacific Cool, en route to Vanuatu, called up to say that they'd hit a big wave and the skipper had fallen and injured his back so they were diverting to New Caledonia, about 2 days' sail away. They didn't know anything about medical facilities at New Cal so, on their behalf, Graham called up Taupo Maritime Radio in NZ who were super-helpful. They gave us details of email addresses and phone numbers for the coastguard centre in New Cal. and also passed on the information to them so that Pacific Cool would be on their watch list. On this morning's radio Net we were able to pass on all this to the boat so that, when they arrive, they should have a reception committee as well as medical advice over the satellite phone. New Cal is a French-governed island so facilities there are very good, apparently – there's even a Carrefour!
We'll the timer has just beeped for the bread rolls and they are looking delicious, so we'd better get on with some sailing!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Safely anchored in North Minerva Reef

Our timing was impeccable. We arrived at the reef at 10.00am just as the wind swung around to the North East and we've anchored in lovely clear water so we could see the anchor hit the sandy bottom 12m below us. When we arrived there were already 8 boats here and a further 4 have since pulled in with yet more on their way.
The screen-shot from our plotter shows you the reef as Maunie approached the entrance on the north-west side – you can see a couple of grey triangles inside the reef which are the AIS signals of two anchored boats. What the picture doesn't convey is that, because we arrived at high tide, much of the reef was submerged or just awash so its extremities were only marked by the breaking surf from the ocean swell; it was impossible to take a photo to convey this.
Inside the lagoon the boats are bobbing about gently to a little wind-driven chop but as the tide recedes the reef will give us more protection. The sun is shining and the water's invitingly warm so a swim, a siesta, a beer and some lunch are next on the agenda. Not sure about the order of these yet.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Approaching Minerva Reef

Finally, finally, after 37 hours of motoring, we found some wind last night and thankfully switched off the engine at 17.20. We had some very pleasant sailing through the night but at 05.50 this morning the wind gave up and the engine's now back on. However we are only about 4 hours from Minerva Reef and we're hoping the wind will return to allow us to sail the last bit. We overtook two smaller boats, Trumpeter and Donella, in the night; it was a typically small-world moment as Donella's crew Darrel and Sonia bought our old mainsail stackpack cover from us in Opua when we got our new one and, after some tlc with the sewing machine are very pleased with it.
The slight tedium of motoring yesterday was enlivened, but not in a good way, by a discovery of a water leak in one of the connectors in our pressurised fresh water circuit. The first we knew of it was one of us happening to see water pumping out from our automatic bilge pump and we reckon about 200 litres of precious fresh water was lost; at least the bilges got a rinse. We shut down the pressure pump and can access water via two hand pumps in the galley and forward heads sinks but when we get into the anchorage we'll try to effect a temporary repair with self-sealing rubber tape. We daren't take the fitting apart in case it breaks completely so we'll leave that major surgery until we arrive in Fiji; the fittings are domestic push-fit ones on hard plastic hoses so they may (we hope) be available at a plumbers merchants there.
Eyes are peeled for the first sight of the reef ahead, though we'll likely only see it when we are very close. We'll try and post a photo of it once we are safely in.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Lottery of Breezes and the delight of Good Clouds

Each morning we send a short update to Bob McDavitt, our weather router who's based in Auckland. We update our position and weather conditions and compare them to the original predictions in his suggested course; if things change dramatically, he'll then issue a new routing but otherwise he just returns a few pithy comments of encouragement or suggestions of minor course changes.
Yesterday morning, as we sailed into lighter winds, he commented, "Not of lot of breeze, unfortunately. More like a lottery of breezes." Well, thankfully we seem to have won that particular lottery because, after a couple of hours motoring first thing in the morning, we found a lovely 12 knot following wind and calm seas so were able to fly the Parasailor until dusk and then continue with goose-winged white sails through most of the night. Having expected the worst, every hour of sailing, rather than listening to the clatter of the engine, was a bonus of peace and, of course, meant about four litres of diesel saved.
The wind finally dropped to about 5 knots at 4.00am and we started the engine. There was just enough breeze, from our starboard side, to fill the sails as we motored, however, so they gave enough drive to allow us to run at economical (and quieter) engine revs and, almost more importantly, to keep a steady pressure on the mast so we don't roll. Apart from the noise of the engine, which isn't so bad really, it's been pretty comfortable and the surfeit of electricity from the alternator has allowed us to run the breadmaker and watermaker.
If you  have been following the progress of the Volvo Ocean Race (and we're sorry that our bandwidth doesn't allow us to compete with their amazing videos and photos streamed from the boats to the website) you'll have read about the crews' obsession with clouds, particularly in the last leg to Newport. They talk about Good Clouds and Bad Clouds, meaning that the increased winds under rain-bearing clouds can either help or hinder their progress, depending where they meet them. We're seeing lots of cloud activity around us, with heavy rain clearly visible as it pours from them, but this morning we had a Good Cloud to windward of us that gave us an hour of respite from the motor as the wind swept down from it towards us.
We take the ability for exchange emails at sea almost for granted now but it's still pretty amazing, really, and every now and then we're reminded how fragile that link to the rest of the world can be. We received an email this morning from a friend in Whangarei who reported that a French boat Reine Marguerite which had left there on Sunday was able to send emails but couldn't receive any due to a problem on board; this meant that they had received no weather forecast updates since they left New Zealand and they were struggling to hear the daily weather bulletin from Gulf Harbour Radio which has become an important part of our daily routine. We were able to make good contact with Reine Marguerite this morning on our SSB radio net so Graham could give them an updated weather forecast from our GRIB forecasting files, downloaded the night before. Unfortunately his news wasn't great – they would be facing 36 hours of brisk adverse winds beginning on Saturday evening but at least Bernard, the skipper, had some warning and could plan his strategy and sail plan accordingly. The addition of 'old' technology of the SSB radio is certainly a pretty vital one for yachts sailing these waters and we continue to be delighted with our set which was aboard Maunie when we bought her and is one of the better installations around in terms of power and clarity.
Back to email, it's great to receive comments and emails from those of you following us. Comments that you add to our http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall page get emailed through to us automatically (unlike comments added to the bottom of this blog which we won't see until we get back to Internetland). It was lovely to see a note from Ian & Jessica Given who we met up in the wilds at the north west tip of South Island last year – great to see that you are following our progress and we'll definitely see you in Tauranga this summer!
Well, better get on with a few boat jobs. Oh, and there's a magnificent rainbow close on our starboard side – could be another Good Cloud on its way!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wednesday - a drizzly night and a lighter day

Last night was a bit trying, to be honest. We had a couple of rain squalls, bringing drizzle rather than heavy rain but each delivering big changes in wind direction that required us to gybe the boat. This process involves swinging the mainsail boom from one side to the other and then going up on the foredeck to refit the preventer line (which stops it swinging back accidentally). Once the main is gybed across, it's back up to the foredeck to disconnect the 3.5m long pole from the foresail, swing is across to the other side of the boat, connect up the new sheet and guys to it, hoist it into position and then pull the foresail across to the pole-end. At night, taking extra care, that's about a 20 minute job all told so it was frustrating to have to do it twice; it ate into our off-watch sleep time too.
As the dawn came up, the breeze went down, until we we rolling in the swell, sails slatting back and forth and Maunie only making about 3 knots; we started the engine at 07.30 and motored for a couple of hours. At the moment we're sailing again at about 4.5 knots and the weather forecast suggests that we'll be chasing fickle breezes all day. We can't afford to go too slowly as there is a front bringing adverse NE to N winds coming for us on Saturday – we want to arrive at Minerva reef before it does to give us the option of putting in there is necessary. However, it's very pleasant here just at the moment and the engine run has given us hot water for showers and hair washes.
Onwards into warmer waters!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The night watch

Night watches are the times when we particularly thank Maunie for her pilothouse, especially with a cold southerly wind from the Antarctic regions blowing up our stern. In most yachts, the watch-keeper has to sit up in the chilly cockpit to keep a lookout but we can shut the sliding hatch, drop the canvas flap down over the back of the companionway and sit in comfort below, with a good view out.
With the instrument displays dimmed down and the floor flooded with soft red light, it's very calm down here. Winnie's managing the steering very nicely and so the watch-keeper's job is to monitor our course, fill in the ship's log every hour and watch out for other vessels. We can switch on the radar and check check for targets up to 48 miles away but this area isn't a recognised shipping route so our biggest concern is for slow-moving sailing yachts, mostly heading in roughly the same direction as us. We've seen a couple of masthead lights on the horizon each night.
We're now into our third day aboard and all's well. Those following our progress on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall will have spotted that we don't seem to pointing at Fiji at all! We're heading NE to try to skirt around a high pressure system that gives southerly winds on its eastern side. Unfortunately the high is moving slowly eastwards so we'll fall into progressively lighter winds tomorrow and will probably have to motor for a while. We are probably going to make a stop in Minerva Reef, a circular atoll which pokes up only a couple of metres above the water, on Saturday morning and anchor there for a couple of days until a new system brings us south-easterly winds to take us into Savusavu. However the forecasting models seem particularly unsure of themselves at the moment, so plans may change!

Monday, 18 May 2015

24 hours in; rockin' and rollin'

Well, a veritable fleet of boats left Opua yesterday and there was a queue of about 9 crews waiting at the customs office when we got there to clear out. Gary, the Customs Officer, is used to this annual migration and processed our paperwork in only a couple of minutes. We manage a very nice Sunday brunch at the Marina Cafe (we will really miss that place!) and slipped our lines at 12.30pm.
The reason for the mass exodus is that this weather window looks good, though maybe the wind will go light in a couple of days, but another weather system heading across the Tasman Sea would make a departure a day later look tricky.
For us, so far, so good. We had a following wind chasing us out of the Bay of Islands and put the Parasailor up straight away. Looking at the forecast and the conditions around us we decided to fly it through the night but the wind and waves increased steadily until, around midnight, we had 22-24 knots from dead behind and Maunie was flying along. If we had extra crew aboard to hand steer we would have been fine to carry on but Winnie the Windpilot was struggling with the conditions as the boat began to surf and we took the decision to drop the sail. This is always a tough call in strong conditions, especially at night but we're pretty well practiced at it now and, with the deck floodlight switched on, we could see what we were doing well enough and, we're glad to report that it all went smoothly. We're now under white sails and making a good 6 – 6.5kts.
We'll update our position on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall every day at around 19.00UTC

Friday, 15 May 2015

Aiming to leave tomorrow (Sunday 17th May)

The weather window for a departure looks pretty OK so we've decided it's time to leave the rain and chill of NZ. We'll be sad to go, though.
The forecast looks as though we should have good following winds for the first couple of days and we are hoping that the swell left over from the gale yesterday will have calmed. If anything the wind looks as though it might go a bit light from Wednesday but we'll take light over too windy any day!
We'll update our position on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall every day at around 19.00UTC
So, in the meantime, last jobs on the list – fill the diesel and water tanks, make a lasagne for the first night's meal, stow everything that might chafe or rattle and (just in case) take a Stugeron anti-seasickness pill tonight!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We'd like you to meet some cruising heroes

We've met some amazing, wonderful people on our voyage. The folks who decide to take the plunge and leave the house, car, career and all the trappings of 'normal life' to sail into the Pacific are generally pretty interesting people to be around. 

We'd particularly like to introduce you to a pretty extraordinary Swedish family whom we first met in an anchorage in Spain back in 2012. 

Photo from Salsa's blog

Staffan and Ellinor, with their two children Erika and Andreas had set off in their 45ft yacht 'Salsa' earlier that summer and we got to know them pretty well as we crossed the Atlantic at the same time and even shared locks in the Panama Canal. Actually the first meeting in Spain wasn't great - Staffan shouted at us that he thought we were anchored too close to him, but we've forgiven him since!

This (southern hemisphere) summer, they bucked the trend and, instead of sailing south to NZ to avoid the cyclone season, they stayed in Fiji. The country was spared any cyclones this year, unlike the previous one, but of course neighbouring Vanuatu was decimated by Cyclone Pam a couple of months ago. 

Their proximity to Vanuatu (about 4 days's sail from western Fiji) and their on-board skills (Ellinor was a consultant paediatrician in Sweden and Staffan was a film producer and business guru so has great project-management skills) meant that they immediately volunteered to help with the disaster recovery programme. They joined a brilliant charity called Sea Mercy (click for the link to their website) which uses sailing yachts to bring medical aid to Pacific Islands where conventional shipping just can't gain access.

They have spent an incredible month in Vanuatu, finding villages flattened by the wind and waves of the cyclone, with crops destroyed in the ground and very little in the way of food or medical aid. Ellinor and doctors from several other yachts have held clinics in the midst of this devastation, treating many hundreds of people, whilst Staffan has provided logistical and practical support whilst also not neglecting his responsibilities to home-school their two children. Erika and Andreas are amazing, accepting all of this in their stride and seeing it as 'just what you do'. Meanwhile he has posted almost daily, detailed accounts on his blog which highlight his respect for the local people who, in spite of the enormity of the disaster that has befallen their country, remain proud and independent; they accept outside help because they have to, not because they want to.

Staffan's latest update is a heart-warming view that puts paid to any Western assumptions that people in these situations just lie back and wait for the Disaster Recovery aid teams to come and rebuild their world. Here are just a few paragraphs which followed the description of a makeshift clinic set up in the damaged church to treat over 100 villagers:

"Remi the man responsible for the disaster work asked me if I wanted to see the village, and as we walked I saw things that were astonishing. You have a village that was wiped out about 5-6 weeks ago? And here they had arranged teams of workers to help the entire village. So instead of a tired crowd where everybody would have to take care of their own problem it was solved with many hands. 

It was organised with men setting up and repair houses and the women assisting with plaiting of material to tie up the walls etc. Can you imagine a roof with 12 guys on top lifting sections by hand and then 5-6 guys fastening to the house? Laughter and team work at its best! I get goose bumps as I write this because the joy and the speed was immense. As if that was not enough, the chiefs house looks like garbage, so Remi told me the working orders.
The chief has ordered that widows houses are fixed first, then lonely women with children, then families etc and last, yes, the chiefs house.

If anything made this relief work a life experience it was this village, I would not have wanted to miss it for my life! This gives so much hope about humanity. I'm not naive, I'm sure they have their problems, but the way they take care of this giant mess is amazing. Remember we are talking about a place without electricity unless you run a generator, we are talking about axes and handsaws, we are talking about splitting bamboo that has to be collected up in the mountains. We are talking about getting a tree away from a house before you can start rebuilding it, and we are not talking tree, we are talking BIG TREE, 100 years old, so wide that you can stand next to it laying down and it is yet taller than a man in its width.
On top of that they also had torrential rains last week so they have mud everywhere, mud everywhere!

Remi told me they are so happy, so happy, that nobody was killed during Pam."

If you'd like to read more, the blog can be found at http://blog.mailasail.com/salsa

Salsa, we salute you!

Wheretheheckawee? A new way to follow our progress

Things are looking up for a departure this Sunday or Monday - we'll be more certain in a couple of days. When we do start moving again, there's a very good website tracker for which we have signed up,  called YIT (Yachts in Transit).

It displays our position, together with weather report, speed and distance covered and any comments with a nice Google Earth graphic; it looks like this:

When we are on passage we'll update it every morning so that it'll show our track (plus an estimate of our position 24 hours later) and our daily distance covered. Once we are in Fiji it'll give photos of the islands and anchorages that we visit.

The address for the website is http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall and there is an option on the home page to 'Subscribe' where you type in your email address, tick the box next to 'Maunie of Ardwall' on the list of boats and press send. You'll get an email back immediately with a link for you to confirm the subscription (it has to be done within the hour) and then you'll receive an email each time we update our position on YIT.

We'll use this in addition to normal updates to this blog and hope that you'll find it useful and interesting!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

To Fail to Prepare is to Prepare to Fail!

I'm sure that was a quote from some training event or other that I attended in 'normal' life - it was probably followed by: "There's no I in TEAM" and "To assume makes an ASS out of YOU and ME". Grrrr. Anyway, if there's one thing we've learned in this voyage, it's that good and thorough preparation before a potentially testing passage is vital. It's hard, not to say demoralising, to have to fix a problem in a bouncing boat at sea when you could have dealt with it easily in a calm harbour before you left.

So today we've been working at a couple of jobs which should put us in good stead just in case we encounter the kind of 'challenging' conditions that confronted the boats who left last week. The first was to remove the anchor.

Our anchor (a 20kg 'Kobra' design) normally lives on its bow-roller, ready for immediate deployment. On passage to Fiji, though, the water will be considerably deeper than the 80m of chain that we carry and, no matter how well it's lashed in place, the force of big waves crashing over it in bad weather could be considerable, enough to break the lashings, possibly. So, we remove it and, thanks to its clever design, can fit it, just, in a locker below our bunk.

The anchor being lowered onto the pontoon walkway

The point of the 'plough' is filled with lead and the bolt can be removed to allow the shank to fold down a bit

The 'folded' anchor ready for stowing 

The locker under the head of our bunk. The anchor fits with just about 4mm to spare and is surrounded by tins of food. Stored here (just behind the mast) we won't have its weight up front so that helps reduce the tendency of the boat's bow to pitch up and down. 

Once the anchor was removed, the next task was to deal with the chain locker. On Maunie the 10mm diameter chain wraps around an electric windlass (for hauling the anchor up from the seabed) and then feeds down through a hole in the deck into a locker below. Any water that follows it drains into the bilges at the bottom of the boat and if we encounter lots of big 'green water' waves over the bow, that would not be a Good Thing. One boat left here last year and turned back as their bilge pump was struggling to keep up with the ingress!

The windlass and chain - the chain goes down through the curved metal chute into the locker below

We remove the chute, tie a specially-made teak plug to the end link of the chain and then wedge it into the hole before replacing the chute. Now fully watertight.
The next job was to get the dinghy back aboard and first of all it needed a good scrub. After a summer in NZ, the bottom had a good collection of barnacles as, unlike Maunie, the dinghy doesn't have antifouling paint.

An unpleasant mix of green slime and barnacles, even though we usually hoist the dinghy out of the water at night

Halfway through the scraping and cleaning process, using the wonderfully-named 'Grunt' fibreglass cleaning chemical

Job done
For us, the dinghy is just as important (if not more so) than a car was to us when we were at home. It's a real work-horse and we were lucky that this one came with the boat when we bought Maunie. It's a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) so has a solid fibreglass bottom (vital if landing on coral-strewn beaches) and inflatable tubes for buoyancy and stability. It's 3.1m long so had good cargo capacity and the 9.8hp outboard motor will allow it to plane at about 12 knots with the two of us aboard. Unusually for a RIB, though, the transom (the back, where the engine is mounted) folds down flat when the tubes are deflated so the dinghy fits into a neat canvas cover and lashes down on to the Maunie's deck where it doesn't get in the way.

Securely lashed in place.
The dinghy is 18 years old, which is about 96 in human years, but the fact that it's been stored in its cover for much of its life has protected it from the UV light that kills inflatables. It has a few war-wounds and patches but we are very fond of it and hope to keep it going until we sail back into British waters.

So, two jobs that took most of the morning to complete. Luckily, as you'll have noticed, they were done in bright sunshine. More preparations to do as the week progresses; we won't bore you with them all but thought you might be interested in a flavour of what we do as the countdown to departure continues. Now, where's that to-do list?

Friday, 8 May 2015

Propeller refitted

We're very glad to report that, after some frustrating delays in Customs (6 days!), our propeller finally arrived on Thursday afternoon. We'd arranged to have the boat put into a cradle ashore for two days which gave us time to give the hull a really good clean and polish and to complete a few other under-the-waterline maintenance tasks.

The prop returned having been given a full service and new bearings at the manufacturers and the trailing edges of the blades have been ground to a new shape:

The clean bronze at the edge of the blade shows where the re-profiling was done (the rest of the prop has its old 'Propspeed' anti-barnacle coating left on).

Once the prop was refitted (in horrible, heavy rain), we relaunched yesterday and did an engine test out in the anchorage. The great news is that the engine can now spin at higher revs, as it should, and we got an extra knot of maximum speed; the prop was smooth and rattle-free again. Hurrah! We are very pleased with the service from Brunton's Propellers but pretty annoyed with DHL for their poor communications and slow reactions to the Customs delay.

So we are pretty much ready to go, except for the weather and Graham's dental issues. There is a possible weather window to leave today but it does not look very good so we'll wait for another week or so for the next system to go through. It looks as though it will be a fairly wet and windy week in NZ, though!

Hope that 40-50 knot red monster goes south of us!! The wind arrows have the 'feathers' (like an archery arrow) at the back so we are getting W to NW winds 

Meanwhile Graham went back for a further round of dentistry on Thursday and his jaw is still pretty sore, so the enforced wait will give him time to recover, with a course of antibiotics to sort a flight gum infection where the tooth was extracted. However, he's been enjoying his role of 'Ground Control' for the boats who have been on passage to Fiji this week, updating the weather outlook for them via the SSB radio and email every day (at sea they can't access all the weather websites). Kiapa has now made it safely to Fiji and Exit Strategy and Ithaka are now having much better wind and sea conditions and should be there on Monday morning. They will all be pleased to arrive after a very challenging voyage.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Organised like a military operation

Our friends on Kiapa, Exit Strategy, Ithaka and a few other boats who left Opua on Saturday must, unfortunately, be wishing they were still here. Their weather window has proved to be an unfriendly one and they are suffering strong winds (25-30 knots) and big seas (4m waves) with some seasickness thrown in (or should that be 'up'?) for good measure. They are sailing against a ENE wind which will swing round to the NE in the next few days and they are trying to head just east of north. We've been talking to them on the radio twice a day but, sadly, Graham can't find a weather forecast that will give them much comfort for the next couple of days at least.

We, meanwhile, have been enjoying light winds and sunshine so vital jobs are being done:

Taking advantage of the weather to dry the laundry
Our preoccupation at the moment, however, is with our propeller. The package, via DHL, seems to be fated for some reason - it was delayed in UK customs for 3 days and now it's being held up in NZ Customs in Auckland! Frantic phone calls and emails to DHL and Customs have so far yielded no results and we are booked for a lift out of the water tomorrow. We've decided to put the boat into a cradle for a couple of days so that the engineer who did the engine work a few weeks ago can do a better job of aligning the engine and prop shaft (which was making a nasty grating noise when we ran it the other day); we hope that this will give us enough time for the propeller to turn up. 

Meanwhile Graham's visit to the dentist last Friday has turned into a mini-drama. What we thought would be a filling under the edge of a crown on a back molar has turned into a very unpleasant and painful extraction so we're now also concerned if that might cause us to delay our departure. A further visit to the dentist on Thursday will tell us more.

The next possible weather window is this Saturday but we are increasingly pessimistic about how good it will be, whether the prop will have arrived or whether Graham's tooth with be ok. If we miss this window, we're in for a really nasty westerly gale here next week so would probably pay the cost to be in the well-sheltered marina for a few days rather than bouncing around on the mooring. We've found a really good new forecasting website called www.windyty.com which provides a very clear animation of what's coming in your area.

So, it's all not going quite to plan. Organised like a military operation, as Graham's Dad would say.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Waiting, waiting...

So, just to recap, our plans for this season (i.e. the southern hemisphere winter, May to November) is to return to Fiji to revisit some of the bits we loved last year and to explore the many islands that we didn't have time to visit. We'll return to NZ in November for our third and final summer here.

The Cyclone Season is officially over in this part of the Tropics and the New Zealand winter is approaching, bringing south-westerly gales (we just had the first of them a few days ago) so the cruising yachts are gathered like Swallows, ready for the off. The trouble is, the weather hasn't really settled down into its normal patterns for this time of year so everyone's wondering just when to go.

This time last year we were feeling the pressure of the decision as we counted down the final days of our New Zealand visas with no great signs of a friendly weather window in which to depart. We finally left on the last day of the visa and had a very good passage up to Tonga. This year, thanks to our flight home in February, our 6 month visitors' visas re-started when we flew back in March so there's absolutely no pressure from that quarter. In any case, we can't go yet as our folding propeller hasn't arrived back here after its return to Essex for some serious maintenance and a re-profiling of its blades designed to allow the engine to spin at its maximum power revolutions.

So we've had a very sociable time with yacht crews we know here as they all wait for the off but, thankfully, have been able to keep out of the great weather forecast debates just at the moment. The first bunch of boats leave this weekend (four brave boats left on Tuesday) so it'll be sad to wave them off; their weather window looks ok but not perfect, though, with a risk of strong winds and big waves towards the end of the 8-day passage to Fiji.

However, all being well, we'll be following their wakes in about 10 days or so, which is when the next favourable weather looks likely. In the meantime, there's still plenty to do on Maunie; last week we went out to practice some man-overboard drills and over the coming weekend we'll move out into the clear waters of the Bay of Islands to recommission the water-maker which has been 'pickled' for most of the summer. Lucky thing.