Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

There may be trouble ahead...

The trick with the game of passage-planning is to try not to leave a nice cosy harbour in sea conditions that make the boat and its crew heave around like items of clothing in a washing machine (it tends to make the crew dispirited, downright grumpy or sick - often all three) and to look as far ahead as possible to get nice conditions for arrival at your destination. A bit of unpleasantness in the middle of the passage can be tolerated if you have already got your sea legs and there's the promise of a bit of sunshine and calm water in a day or two's time.

We are rather struggling to master this trick at the moment, it has to be said. We now have a huge high pressure system heading for New Zealand this weekend which will give accelerated SE winds further north of here (near gale force possibly), while a distinctly unfriendly low pressure trough is heading towards us from the east coast of Australia. Where the two systems meet next week would be right in our path and would create really horrid conditions of rain, squalls and confused seas.

Monday next week - the high pressure (with anti-clockwise winds) over NZ and the trough approaching from Australia

A day later, and the winds are almost northerly,  making the sail a tough beat to windward

and a day later, next Wednesday, the winds would finally ease but would still be on our nose

So we aren't leaving this week! Hmm, we always suspected that the end of an El NiƱo season would be tricky but ........ It's also getting a bit chilly here!

Our team name in the Opua Cruising Club's Quiz Night last week was "The Patient Mariners" (and we came a not-too-shabby third), so we'll see if we can live up to that name in the coming few days.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Bureaucracy and good food

There’s a story, attributed (possibly incorrectly) to the great cruising sailor and author, Jimmy Cornell. On arrival in an Australian port he was asked by the Customs and Immigration official as to whether he had a criminal record. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was still a requirement!” he replied. The official didn’t appreciate the joke.

We’re having a bit of a battle with Australian Customs at the moment over visitors’ visas for our arrival there later this year. Our eVisas that we used for our trip to Brisbane in March won’t be applicable as they allow a maximum stay of 3 months and we’ll need 5 or 6 months, so Dianne took up the challenge to apply online for Class 600 Visitors Visas. The process was pretty complicated and involves a £70 fee each (the other visas were free of charge) and, for no obvious reason,  Graham was required to go to Auckland last week for a medical and chest x-ray – another $270 plus $60 for the bus fare. Dianne’s application status, however, showed that she wasn’t required to submit any extra information.

To cut a long and slightly fraught story short, we slowly realised that, when Graham’s visa was granted on Friday, the status of Dianne’s application remained stubbornly unchanged and we then discovered it had somehow got lost in the machinery. Worried calls and emails have now retrieved it but, guess what, she now has to go to Auckland for a medical and x-ray as well... Strewth!

Whilst all of that has been wasting our time and energy, the Maunie crew has been focusing on food to both build up our stamina for the trip ahead and to put some delicious passage meals into the freezer.  Thanks to a tip from our friends Andy in Noosa and Damian on Sel Citron, we are now avid users of a Nutri-bullet to create healthy fruit smoothies designed to keep the dreaded scurvy at bay.

A healthy mix of kale, banana, feejoa (a NZ fruit), orange and frozen berries

Ready to whizz. The motor is 600W so we can run it on our 12v-240v inverter

The result is a lot more tasty than it looks!

We’ve also been able to take advantage of the fruit-picking season up here in Northland and have tried Persimmons for the first time – delicious!

Persimmons - they look a bit like tomatoes but have seedless flesh with a texture somewhere between a pear and a peach
Of course we can’t be too healthy all the time so are delighted that Laura has brought her shortbread-making skills aboard.

The proud baker
We also have the traditional Maunie treat of choc-chip cookies!

Oh, and finally on the New Zealand food front, we should introduce you to a traditional speciality, Chocolate Fish:

Pronounced 'fush'

Highly coloured marshmallow interiors - got to be good for you!

So, we’re all provisioned up – so much so that the boat has a definite list to starboard from the weight of all the food stores in the lockers - and the weather is looking as though a brisk passage is on the cards. At the moment we’re hoping for Wednesday as a departure date but we’ll wait and see. Oh, and that date assumes that Australia will grant Dianne a visa!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Waiting, waiting....

The weather certainly has been what you might call "active"  here for the past week or so! Having had amazingly settled conditions for the 3 weeks before, the weather systems have made up for lost time, with weather fronts rolling in one after the other. It's been a case of "if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes" as we've had bright sunshine one minute and torrential rain the next.

Last weekend we heard the Maritime Radio broadcast warn of "Storm warning for sea areas Coleville and Brett, Gale warnings for all other New Zealand waters" and the forecast for our local area, Brett, was particularly unpleasant:

Gale warning.
Northwest 30 knots gusting 40 knots, becoming westerly 20 knots for a time this morning, then rising to northwest 35 knots gusting 45 knots early afternoon. Changing southwest 40 knots gusting 55 knots early evening. Sea becoming very rough in the afternoon. Waves may rise rapidly during squalls. Poor visibility in per
iods of rain, some heavy falls and possible squally thunderstorms.

We were very pleased to be in the Marina and, incidentally, very impressed with the marina staff who diligently checked the mooring lines of every boat, adding extra warps if needed, before the storm arrived.

Having survived that safely, we've had all sort of weather (not very nice, most of it) and there's another swipe to hit us this weekend:

But, with lots of things crossed, we're hoping that we'll get a window early next week..... In the meantime, lots of cooking of passage meals to go into the freezer.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

What NOT to do if charged at by a Maori warrior

What's the one thing not to do in this situation?


A couple of days ago we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a few miles north of here. At the spot marked by the flagpole in 1840 the Treaty was signed by over 300 Maori chiefs and the British government.

The Treaty is widely regarded as the birth of the modern New Zealand nation but remains the source of ongoing controversy - there being some differences in interpretation between the English and Maori translations. We wanted to visit the place to learn more about the whole thing and were hugely impressed by our guide who showed us around and filled in the huge gaps in our knowledge.

Our ticket also included a 30-minute 'Cultural Show' -  we'd normally run a mile from such things but we'd been told that this was a worthwhile event and so it turned out to be. This being the end of the tourist season, there were only a dozen of us watching the team of Maori performers go through their very energetic paces. 

First of all we visitors had to elect a Chief to represent our group so Dianne did a very neat job of pushing Graham one step forward at the critical moment! This meant he had to stand and face the 'warrior' outside the meeting house in a test of whether we came in peace.

Once that bit of the process was satisfactorily completed we moved inside and Graham had to make a short speech before we were welcomed. 

The hongi greeting - touching nose and forehead
Once Graham had completed his chiefly duties to the satisfaction of all concerned, he was allowed to return to his front row seat next to Dianne (Mrs Chief) and Laura (Mischief) to watch the brilliant dance and song performance.

Doing our warrior faces
Back outside, our ears still ringing from the volume of the singing, we had a look at the huge war canoe which can seat up to 140 paddlers; it was built in 1940 and is still launched every year on Waitangi Day.

Bow carving
Overall, a very memorable day! Thanks to Adam Kerner for his photos.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

When two boats are in the same bit of water...

The saying goes: "When two boats are in the same bit of water, heading in the same direction, it's a race!".

And when one boat is British and the other is American, it's a re-run of the Americas Cup....

We were delighted to be sailing against Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 belonging to our great mates Cindi and Adam (whom we first met in Fiji to share some memorable experiences in Fulaga tow years ago). They have had an enforced 18 months' break from sailing after Cindi fell from the ladder when Bravo  was in a boatyard, breaking her back and her wrist. Thankfully her back has made a full recovery, though her wrist is still giving her a few problems, and they made full use of the time to do a major refit of the boat. So last week was the first full test of new sails, new electronics and some serious work to the rudder and propeller shaft - just have a look at their blog http://svbravo.blogspot.co.nz/ to see how much work went in to all that!

Anyway, they sailed up from Whangarei to join us in a lovely anchorage in the Bay of Islands and, after a walk on the island of Urapukapuka and a meal aboard Maunie, we had a cracking race back into Opua. A few pics of each boat are below:

Bravo going well to windward

She's a cutter rig (two foresails) like Maunie 
Perfect conditions!

Maunie at work

..and showing here bottom

The race? Ah, well, it was really close but, um, the USA beat Britain, I'm afraid. Well, they are a bigger boat, have new sails and I'm sure we can claim redress with the Protest Committee! 

We're now in the marina in Opua waiting for a weather window but, wow, the weather has changed here in the past few days! We've had a big storm over us last night:

We had nearly 50 knots overnight.
The week ahead, unfortunately, doesn't look great in terms of escaping the increasingly-chilly NZ weather so we'll have to be patient....... 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Glorious Weather

We are following the progress of the boats that set off at the end of the week; once again we've started up the Southern Cross radio net so have about a dozen yachts checking in each morning. Most report a lot of motoring and light winds but the breeze seems to be picking up for them now.

Meanwhile we've been enjoying some wonderful weather as we've been out exploring the Bay of Islands and having some great wildlife moments.

The training vessel R. Tucker Thompson anchored in Pipi Bay

Laura spotted some dolphins in the distance
These were large Bottlenose dolphins who seemed very interest in us and another yacht...

.....Until they found a school of fish!
There's a researcher at one of the NZ universities who's studying Bottlenose dolphins in this part of the country so Laura is going to send her some photos and find out what she's doing.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Constance has a new brain!

Our battles with the autopilot have been quite a story over the past week. We'll spare you the details but, briefly, we just couldn't understand why Constance wouldn't let us into her calibration settings to resolve her confusion as to where she was going. We tried a new electronic compass and even managed to track down a second-hand computer 'brain' but had exactly the same issues with that!

Constance's brain, the Type 300 Course Computer from 1997

Constance and her twin - who didn't want to work for us either

This is what it said in the manual but we just couldn't get to this function, no matter what..
So, after much experimentation and emails to Raymarine in the UK and to various NZ experts, we finally admitted defeat on Thursday and had a new autopilot installed. Of course the wiring is all of a different type ( it runs on a communications network called Seatalk ng) so this involved Graham becoming a bilge-rat again to pull new cables through the boat but, after 3 hours, the job was done.

The new brain - no longer a course computer, now a Actuator Control Unit

The new control instrument - in full colour and displaying all sorts of extra information
By some miracle, the new kit talks seamlessly to the old kit on board via a Seatalk-to-Seatalk ng converter so we can still use the old autopilot control panel down in the cabin to change direction without having to go up to the new cockpit controller.

Following the installation we've had a couple of days of sea trials with the new kit and are delighted that the expenditure has actually delivered a much-improved autopilot rather than just replicating the performance of the old Constance. The new solid-state, 9-axis compass and movement sensor delivers a much smoother and more accurate result and the autopilot 'learns' the characteristics of the boat so should get even better over time. We are very glad to have put this episode behind us but are pleased that we managed to fix it all before we were on passage to Vanuatu.

So, now we're looking at the weather in great detail. Lots of boats departed today on the first weather window that has presented itself in about 3 weeks. However, it looks as though they will experience a lot of calm conditions and motoring so we are happy not to be with them, there being no guarantees of friendly tankers en route to Vanuatu.

Lots of white space means no wind
So we'll wait for a couple of gales to roll through next week and see how things look from next weekend. In the meantime we're keeping very busy and have enjoyed some lovely sailing out in the Bay of Islands. Today saw Graham scale the mast to do a rig safety check and Laura, who claims she's very scared of heights, conquered her fears and made it to the top as well. You can read her take on the challenge on her blog:

Friday, 6 May 2016

Getting ready but one of the crew is confused

The late, great Two Ronnies once introduced a sketch in one of their TV shows as follows:

Ronnie Barker: "This next sketch is set in a ball bearing factory."
Ronnie Corbett: "I play a man who's lost his bearings."
Ronnie B:"....and I play a man who's lost the will to live."

The link from this to life aboard Maunie is that Constance, our normally-indefatigable electronic autopilot, has lost her bearings, completely. She just doesn't know which way is north and, for an autopilot, that's a problem. We've tried lots of tests and tricks and consulted local experts and even borrowed a new electronic compass but all without success. It seems that Constance's brain, the Type 300 course computer, is corrupted.

The problem is that she's getting on a bit - 19 years old to be precise so she's positively prehistoric in terms of computers. The good news is that we can retain the hardware - the motor that drives the rudder and the sensor that measures the rudder angle - but will need a new brain, new power pack and new controller / display. Plus about $4000 to pay for it. Aaargh! However we don't seem to have much choice and so, next Wednesday, will get the new kit fitted and then will be ready to go.

In the meantime, we've sailed out of Opua and are anchored up in the Bay of Islands in lovely settled weather - definitely an Indian Summer going on here. There are lots of yachts waiting to depart for Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu but this settled weather means virtually no wind and what there is comes from the wrong direction. Several people are worrying that their NZ visas are about to expire (we feel their pain as we were in that situation two years ago) so you can feel the stress levels rising if you overhear conversations in the laundry or sailing club. 

The thing is, you just can't rush the weather and, at the end of an El Nino episode, the weather certainly hasn't settled into 'normal' patterns yet. So we'll be content to wait a week or two more before we go.