Saturday, June 27, 2015

The New Plan

Our blog has been silent for a while since our plans have been in such flux and we didn't want to jinx things one way or another by being too optimistic.

When we crossed the South Pacific to Australia, we skipped Vanuatu due to time constraints with the intention to go there afterwards.  Category 5 Cyclone Pam hit the islands this past March and we figured we would go spend 3-4 months there helping with reconstruction.   
Photo Courtesy of UNICEF via Getty Images

Al ( from SAGITAIRE) and I looked at taking 2 different weather windows at the end of April but got closed out on both.  We then left for the US to take care of the rental houses while TORTUGUITA stayed comfortably tied in a berth at the Gold Coast City Marina.  There was a decent weather window to New Caledonia of 7 days while we were gone but had hopes of having another upon our return.  Well, no such luck.  The windows are running 4 days max and at this time we either have to 'fish or cut bait' as the saying goes.
The people of Vanuatu could really use the help

Destination: Darwin

Since it looks like there is no safe way to get to Vanuatu in the near future, we decided to head to Southeast Asia.  We must transit Indonesia to get to the rest of the countries and will have some flexibility in our route once through Indo.  We are not much for buddy boating, or at least hand holding during our cruising.  However, there are 2 Australia to Indonesia Rallys.  One leaves from Cairns and the other from Darwin.  These events take care of all the bureaucracy and provide support for any problems during the 3 month passage through the islands.  The cost is actually pretty favorable since the option doing a DIY transit is to hire a ships agent and have them handle your paperwork but there is no support or planned events.  The rally from Cairns would be preferable since it is a week closer to the Gold Coast than Darwin but the limit of 50 boats has been reached so they are not accepting any more applications.

Here's the list of boats we will be traveling with:

The Darwin Rally has room for us but we are pushed up against the 1 month that it takes to get our Cruising Permit (CAIT) and then our Visas from the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin prior to the late July departure.  Not the least is the need to get ourselves to Darwin in less than a month.

So we must get going.  Heading north.  Unlike last year, when we were exploring all the towns, rivers, islands, and marinas, we are just going to do marathon passages to get as much distance under the keel as possible.

We are departing tomorrow and will sail north for about a week with the Whitsunday Islands being our first rest stop.  We pretty much already covered all that territory last year. 

Sorry Vanuatu, it will be a loss for us all.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Back in the water

Catamaran row at the Gold Coast City Marina.

We're done with land cruising so it's now time to get Tortuguita ready to go back in the water.  There is always plenty of work to do on a boat but the goal was to only do things necessary to get launched.  Everything else would wait until we get in the marina berth.

Waiting for the Travelift
The hulls had to be buffed and waxed.  This took 4 days because the sun was so hot that the work had to be done on the shady side of the boat or else the wax would cake-up and get sticky if working in the sun. The antifouling bottom paint had to be sanded, primed, and painted.  The propellers needed to be stripped and Propspeed applied.  There is an order that everything needs to be accomplished.  The boat needs to be launched within 3 days of painting the bottom so it is not possible to  do the buffing afterwards.  We had a few rain days but were ready with hours to spare.

On the road again
Now that we are comfortably tied to the dock, the project list started with thoroughly scrubbing of boatyard dirt off the decks and includes reinstalling the sail, overhauling the water maker, finishing the water tank project and gluing some headliner, plus many little things that just appear.

Our goal is to leave the marina after Easter and head to Coff's Harbour, about 150 miles south of here.  This will give us a better angle against the southeast winds for our trip to New Caledonia.  

A picture perfect launch with the new 250 ton lift.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Zealand - South Island

The InterIsland Ferry

We had a nice ferry ride to Picton.  The plan was to stay around the port and explore the Marborough wine region but the campgrounds were either run down or by noisy highways so we continued toward Christchurch.
Fortunately we ended up at Kaikoura and ended up spending 2 nights in this one road beach town.  We went to the seal colony and hiked a few miles.  The beach was made of finely ground black rocks but had not one shell.  This area is famous for a species of Abalone called the Paua.  Of course, we bought two.

Port of Picton

Kaikora Peninsula

Shoreline in Kaikora

Kaikora Fur Seal

Tucker Sno-Cat from the actual expedition

We went to the Museum by the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch.  They had some nice exhibits but we both thought the Antarctic Exhibit was very interesting.  New Zealand is the closest major country to Antarctica and has been a major player in its exploration.

When I was flying EC-130's in the Navy, my engineer, Dan Shore, flew in the squadron that had LC-130's belonging to the National Science Foundation in support of Antarctic Operations. 
I always wanted to fly in that squadron.  What an incredible experience that would have been. 
LC-130 (notice the skis around the wheels)

Apparently the US Air Force now has the job.

Temporary Support for the Anglican Church in Christchurch
We stayed 2 nights at a backpackers hotel in Christchurch (Kiwi Basecamp).  It was kind of fun and more social than a regular hotel but had a frat house feel to it.  Us old folks were falling asleep as the youngsters were  jamming on guitars and drinking out back in the courtyard.

We walked the City Center and visited the Quake City Museum.  Even though the city was basically leveled by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the rebuilding has been progressing rapidly.  There is no shortage of work in CC for construction workers.

Catholic Church in Christchurch under repairs

More of those walking road blocks
We picked up our final camper  and headed to the west coast in search of something besides hills covered with dry brown grass and found it.  Once we hit the foothills of the New Zealand Alps, it rained solid for 24 hours and then never really stopped.  We did finally find green hills and some incredible scenery.  

Franz Josef Glacier

 Neither of us had ever seen a glacier and that was probably the highlight of our trip.  If it was winter, it would have been nothing more than a snow capped mountain but being summer and warm, it was truly special.  The glaciers are receding 125 metes per year and probably won't be there in 50 years.  Too bad.

Reflecting Lake - Too much wind, Too bad

Front edge of the Fox Glacier

The Fox Glacier used to cover this entire valley
Getting there was half the fun
The Fox Glacier

Mostly loved by the sand fleas

The Blue Pools. Nice hike, nice surprise

Suspension bridge to the Blue Pools

On the Lookout at Bluff.
At the south tip of Bluff

 We headed down to the 'Far South' and were as close to Antarctica as most people ever get when we went to the town of Bluff.  A Low had come passed and it was windy and cold.  If it wasn't, I would have been dissapointed.  We went to another museum in Invercargill and headed up the east coast to Dunedin.  

It was cold at Bluff

Cheese tasting and tour in Oamara

We were ahead of schedule and spent a few extra days exploring the southeast and even had an unplanned night at Akaroa.   

Never too old for the Jumping Pillow

World Famous Chips in Akaroa

Akaroa Harbor
Getting a little stick time at the museum.  P-51 in the background
We returned to Christchurch on our last day and went to the New Zealand Air Force Museum and took back the campervan. 

The flight the following morning was full but we were lucky and had a morning arrival at the Coolangatta Airport in Australia.

Now that we are done living in vehicles, it's back to Tortuguita. Sure seems huge compared to what we have been living in for the past 2 months.

Kiwi Air Force Museum

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Zealand - North Island

The 'Lucky' Campervan
Cheese press - not the books
We flew QANTAS from Brisbane to Auckland.  The three hour flight and 3 time zones gave us an afternoon arrival for a hotel night.  
The next morning we picked up our camper from Lucky Campervans.  These are Previas like the one we had in Australia.  The price was good but it didn't have the outside sleeping concept nor an electric fridge.  We thought NZ was going to be colder than Oz so it wouldn't be too hot sleeping inside, wrong.
The fridge was no problem except we were always buying ice and dealing with melted ice water on everything.

We headed north up the west coast to the Kauri Forest.  The trees were spectacular but not much in the way of wildlife.

Russell car ferry
The next day was Paihia.  This is where the treaty between the settlers and Maori's was signed which essentially ended the wars between the settlers and indigenous people.

'Lucky' on The Paihia to Russell ferry
The Maori traveled thousands of miles from Polynesia to New Zealand thousands of years ago.  Their same ancestors also traveled a similar distance to Hawaii.  Their current language seems very similar to Polynesian and Hawaiian.  Just like Australia has kept the Aboriginal names for many places, New Zealand has done the same with the Maori.
Anglican Church in Russell

 The day after Paihia we took the car ferry to Russell.  This was the countries first capital.  It has a well protected anchorage and was the center of whaling for a while.  

We did some hiking, found some deserted beaches and think we saw a Kiwi bird.

Ended up at the oldest tavern and had a beer.

The town of Russell

Sundial on Flagstaff Hill

Russel and Bay of Islands

New Zealand Wildlife
 We enjoyed Happy Hour with our new friends.  We don't like to compare places too much but Australia has such cool wildlife.  Kangaroos bouncing around in every campsite.  NZ has ducks.

Cooking in the 'Lucky Van'

Booker at the Falls

Whangarei Falls
We took the winding beach road to Whangarei and poked around the wharf.  We met up with Per and Sabina from BREEZE.  They crossed the Pacific from Mexico when we did in 2013.  We have only met over the radio and never in person.  It is nice to talk with them and put faces with voices.

We went hiking to the Whangarei Falls.  Fortunately it was an easy hike since the Russell hiking had done a number on our bones and feet.
Whangarei Falls
The relocation Campervan

Hiking in the Taupo Thermal Valley

Thermal vents at Taupo

Dave at the heavy petting zoo

Grapes at the Elephant Winery

The Tui Brewery Bar

Men's Room at Tui - Great Urinals

Beer Keg Sink at Tui
Tui Beer Sampler


Our parking spot on the ferry to Picton

We turned in the 'Lucky' and had another hotel night prior to picking up our new van.  This van needs to be relocated from Auckland to Christchurch.  It's essentially free to us except we pay the ferry and fuel.  We felt like Rock Stars compared to being in the Lucky.

It turned out to be a long day so when we stumbled upon a campsite when checking out the Taupo thermal vents, we stopped early.  We hiked among steam vents on the hills and valleys.  The campsite had kind of a petting zoo with llamas, sheep, and rabbits.

Our original first day goal was Napier/Hastings in the Hawkes Bay wine region.  We ended up there the second day and somehow, right around happy hour we ended up tasting the local wines.

The next day we were heading to Wellington where we would take the ferry to the South Island.  Along the way we stopped at the Tui Brewery.  They had some nice beers that aren't available anywhere else except here at this brewery.

I have seen lots of great stainless fabrication in New Zealand but this has to be the best use of old beer kegs that I have ever seen.

We had an early ferry departure.  The weather was nice and ended up at the South Island at noon.

It was a 3 hour trip but it looked like we were in a different country.

That's it for this blog.  Will post the South Island when we get done.  Cheers mates.