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Freighters go to windward much better

I boarded the flight in Auckland bound for Sydney with mixed emotions.  The flight marked the end of our South Pacific adventure, and the beginning of a very different journey.   A little over a month prior to this I could not have imagined that this is what we would be doing at this moment.  It’s not a bad thing, it just kind of made my head spin, when I thought about it, just a bit.  You have  probably read about this in the previous posts, but in a nutshell, Michelle accepted a new job with Lindblad Expeditions and I had just finished packing the boat up for shipment from New Zealand.  She was in Sydney, Australia and I was headed there for a visit then on to Texas to see family and eventually to Vancouver, British Columbia to receive the boat, put it back together and get it to Seattle.  Michelle has touched on her new job, our travels in Australia, so I’ll focus the boat shipment project.

So, in late March when she received the job offer from Lindblad it meant that she would be relocating to Sydney, Australia for about six months.  We scrambled to consider the options for “us” and “the boat”.

Option 1-Sail to Sydney, Australia, find a slip there, liveaboard the boat and eventually ship it back via freighter to Seattle.  This seemed to make the most sense, get “Cheers” across the Tasman Sea and live on it until Michelle was shifted back to Seattle.  It seemed simple enough.  The first concern was that it was getting late in the season for good weather in crossing the Tasman.  The low pressure centers had begun to shift north (due to the fact that it was getting into fall) and these are very fast moving, sometimes ruthless weather systems.  Concern number two came up as I was researching a berth for the boat near North Sydney, where Michelle was going to be working.  Boat slips were very hard to come by and those that were available rang up to the tune of $2,400 Australian per month! This equates to approximately $2,200 U.S. dollars for a hole in the water.  This is about the price of renting a small flat or apartment in Sydney.  Put on top of this that it would cost about an extra $5,000 to ship the boat from here vs. New Zealand, hmm,,, we need a new plan.

Option 2-Sail the boat from New Zealand back to Seattle.  It’s a sailboat, just sail it back, easy yes? Not really.  It’s about 6,000 nautical miles in a straight line from Auckiand, New Zealand to the Seattle region.  Most if not all of this is to windward, which is not the most pleasant point of sail or very simply “it’s the wrong way”.  The other problem with this option is that I’ve lost my crew, (Michelle) to her new position with Lindblad.  We considered hiring someone to sail with me, (most sane sailors will not volunteer for this run) and I really had no desire to single hand on this journey.  The last consideration and a very valid one was the abuse that the boat would suffer during the trip.  A sail or two and some equipment would have to be replaced upon arrival into Seattle.  Ok, not the best plan, other options?

Option 3-Pack the boat up and ship it on a freighter to Seattle.  I had gotten a quote from a company called Taurus Logistics in New Zealand earlier in our journey for shipment from New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest.  I contacted them again to see if the bid was still valid, they said that it was and I sought out other bids to compare.  In the end there were only two companies that could or would handle this type of shipment, Taurus and TNL GAC Pindar.  The bids were competitive, about $20-23,000 US dollars.  This would necessitate that we sail the boat to Tauranga, New Zealand, unstep the mast, strip the decks, strip the mast, secure the boat to a cradle, load it on a ship bound to Vancouver, B.C., put it all back together on the other end and then sail it to Seattle.  More hmmm,,

We considered our options, discussed them at length and in the end decided to go with option 3.  This whole process has been an adventure in itself and this is how it went.

I contacted Taurus and began the process of “booking us in” for passage on freighter from Tauranga bound for Vancouver.  They have a ship departing about every “fortnight” or two weeks on this run but they don’t always have space.  We made a deposit in a New Zealand account to begin the process  and “book” the space.  We wanted to stay in Auckland, pick a weather window and then sail for Tauranga without arriving too early but also to be in line with Michelle’s departure for her training in New York.  Originally we were booked in on a mid-May departure but it turned out that they did not have space so we settled on the next departure which was early June.  Throughout this time period there were papers going back a forth, a trip or two to the bank and a lot of questions about how this was all going to work.  We departed Auckland and made a  beeline for Tauranga.  We made good time with some fair weather and had a mix of sailing and motoring during our trip.  In the end we decided to anchor off of the small community of Whitianga to enjoy our last few days of “cruising”.  This was a great decision and was a nice break from our “flurry” of arrangements.

We arrived into Tauranga, had planned on anchoring out but ended up at an outer berth in the Bridge marina in the harbor.  Tauranga is the biggest shipping port in New Zealand but it is also a beautiful part of the country.  The next day I touched base with the marina and the boatyard, everyone was very helpful.  In the end, Bruce and Lucy Goodchap at the Bridge Marina Travelift boatyard (gotta love that name) were able to answer all of my questions.  They actually were the best source of information throughout this whole process.  Much better than any of the broker representatives and shipping agents, I was still asking them questions once I reached Vancouver.

Michelle and I then began the slow process of decommissioning our home, while still keeping it together enough to liveaboard.  The big project that I needed Michelle’s help for was taking the mast down so me made sure to get that done before she left.  I coordinated with the yard, we picked a time (had to be slack tide due to the currents in the area) and we took care of it.  This required their crane, two of their people and Michelle and I coordinating on the boat.  It’s kind of unnerving to pull a 52’ aluminum pipe, off of the mast step (which is on the keel (bottom of the boat), guide it up through our lovely woodwork down below and then out into the boat yard without causing damage.  It went flawlessly.  I then spent the next few days stripping all of the wire rigging, line and anything else that I could pull off of the mast to get it down to just the mast.  I then wrapped it with bubble wrap and shrink wrap to protect it during the shipment.  Somewhere in here Michelle had to pack up and depart for New York, not knowing when she would be home again.  That’s a tough packing job knowing the it would be spring in New York, then to Australia for the fall and winter with travel to the South Pacific Islands for work.  It was hard to say goodbye but at this point we knew that we would be back together in Australia in a short while.

So, Michelle is off for work and I then finish off the worklist.  All of the new cockpit canvas and poling comes off and goes below, bow pulpit, stanchions and lifelines come off, liferaft, dinghy and outboard come off and go below, radar tower is stripped and secured.  Let’s not forget that all of the batteries must be disconnected and isolated, diesel fuel , gas, water and propane tanks must be emptied and all perishable food must be disposed of. Our lovely home became the ubiquitous U-haul.  I was lucky to have Jim Heumann and Karen Sullivan on board a 24’ sailboat ,”Sockdolager” (they sailed across the Pacific the same time as us) were doing the same thing with their boat and we gave each other a hand.  During this process Jim and Karen helped me get the boat to the yard to get it hauled out.  Shortly after this a local welder came and made a custom cradle for Cheers to be shipped in and I moved ashore for the final preparation for the shipment.  Once the boat was ready, Bruce Goodchap at the yard helped me crane the mast onto the boat, figure out how best to support it and secure it. Then it was time to strap the boat to the cradle with about 10 high load straps and lock it up for the last time in New Zealand.

There were many last minute “surprises” that had to be addressed and a few extra costs that were not originally quoted.  It turns out that each shipping company has different requirements for the shipment.  The “Chengtu” the Chinese freighter that Cheers was going on required that all propane tanks and fire extinguishers be taken off of the boat prior to shipment.  There were also about five forms that they wanted filled out and signed at the last minute.  I also found out that our boat insurance would not cover us for any part of the “shipment” process so we had to pay for an extra “rider” policy but then even this would not cover any personal belongings down below.  They recommended that all personal possessions be removed prior to shipment.  Not happening.  Final payments were made to the New Zealand account for Taurus and a wire transfer was made to their U.S. account, the boat was strapped, stripped and locked, it was time to go.

At this point I departed Tauranga for Sydney to go see Michelle, it’s late May at this point.  She was able to arrange that I accompany her for a ship-check voyage on board the Orion in Australia which was a bonus.  Australia for a little over two weeks with only a few nights in Sydney, on to Texas to visit my sister, her great kids, some time with good friends (one baseball game) and then it was on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dealing with the agency in Vancouver was a different story than in New Zealand.  At first it looked like things were going to be a breeze.  When it got down to the week prior to arrival there was last minute paperwork that needed to be rushed and a bond payment of $8,000 that Canadian customs was requiring for the time period that the boat was going to be in the country.  Then at the last minute Canadian customs decided that I didn’t need to post the bond but I’d already scrambled to get the agency the money.  They still have our money and this was coming up on a month ago.  So, I can scramble to get a wire transfer to them but they have to cut a check and mail it to me to get the money back to us, go figure, enough on that.

The “Chengtu” pulled into Vancouver on June 23rd after a stop in LA.  The transfer from the ship to the truck went well, (they wouldn’t let me in the port) and the transfer to the boatyard in North Vancouver went off without a hitch as well.  I took one look at the boat, realized how much I needed to get done in order to get out of there and was suddenly tired.  I got to it nonetheless and the going was slow.  It was sobering to realize that Michelle and I got roughly four times as much done when we worked together as opposed to when I was working by myself.  It took roughly two weeks to put it all back together and I was happy with the way everything went back in place.  North Vancouver was good to me, I found a great local marine store with great character and everything else that I needed but I was happy to get on my way to Seattle.

The weather was great out of Vancouver and I made a stop in Point Roberts, Washington to clear into U.S. waters and have a dinner out.  From there I made a short hop to Lummi Island, Washington to visit our good friend Sharon Grainger.  We had a great dinner at her place with some of her friends, a lovely hike on the island and then dinner aboard Cheers on our last night before I departed for Vendovi Island.  Vendovi Island is a small Island in the San Juan Islands that was once owned by the Fluke family of the “Fluke Meter” company.  Our sailor friends Shawn Breeding and Heather Bransmer are caretaking the island for the summer and I was invited to come for a visit and tie up at their dock for a few nights.  It is a lovely island in a great setting.  What a fine opportunity to catch up with Shawn and Heather, share a few dinners and explore the island. I loved catching up with old friends but it was time to head for Seattle.

I departed early in the morning on July 18th with perfect weather and a great tidal current window.  It was mostly a motorboat ride but I made amazing speed for the day (70 nautical miles in 10 hours). It was hard to steam by Cypress Island, our favorite spot in the San Juan Islands, without Michelle.  I could look off in the distance to the West and pick out a number of spots that held some wonderful memories from our time sailing in these waters.  It was pretty much sunny and calm for the final leg of this journey.

I pulled into Eagle Harbor, Winslow Wharf Marina on Bainbridge Island Washington at about 4 PM.  It was a very quiet afternoon with ferries coming and going, kayakers wandering the harbor and a small amount of other boat traffic.  I eased Cheers into our new home berth, tied up the lines and shut down our good old Perkins diesel.  This truly marked the end of our Pacific journey.  I was happy to be in our new berth, but also sad that this adventure was over and that Michelle was not with me to celebrate.  It has been a great experience that has given us back more wonderful memories than we could have ever wished for. Our next adventure has already begun, but we’ll talk more about that later.

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A Few Passage Pics and Season Stats

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here in Opua for nearly a week. We’ve been blessed with gorgeous weather, so we’ve been able to take care quite a few of the items on our “landfall to do” list. Such as… scrubbed the boat and soaked all of our salty lines, installed new batteries, rinsed and dried sails, washed loads and loads of laundry, emptied nearly all of our lockers to clean out mold and mildew, got a ride to town for groceries, socialized a little, caught up on phone calls to family and bought an inexpensive little car! I haven’t taken any photos of the area yet, but promise to do so soon. I also wanted to thank you for all the kind wishes on our successful arrival. What a great gift to hear from so many wonderful friends!

In the meantime, I have a couple of photos from our passage to share here. I’m sorry that there are so few, it’s really hard to capture the sloppy seas on camera, and the pilot whales took off as soon as I tried to photograph them. So, you get pictures of the pumice and our GPS as we cross the Tropic of Cancer and the International Date Line. 

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I’ve also compiled a few statistics from our past year that I thought some of you might find interesting.

  • Total nautical miles sailed = 7420
  • Total number of days (24 hrs.) on passage = 70
  • Number of islands and atolls visited = 32
  • Number of places Cheers anchored or moored = 52
  • Number of countries visited = 4
  • Number of photos taken = 4032

In the past year, Cheers has covered 63 degrees 8 minutes of latitude, and 80 degrees 30 minutes of longitude. We’ve sailed from San Carlos, Mexico in the north and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the east, to Opua, New Zealand, in the south and west. It’s been a big year.

Take care & have a fabulous holiday season.

More soon, Michelle

Passage Prep, Take Two

It’s a sunny Sunday, here at Maupiti Island, with light northeasterly winds just ruffling the surface of this neon aqua lagoon. Yesterday, we had a fantastic walk, all the way around the island in under four hours, including a stop for lunch at Plage Tereia, over on the west side. We’ve been here for 11 days now, and are beginning to feel the familiar pull westward. No matter how much we love a place, the early-November, beginning of cyclone season, deadline is ever-present, and we know we need to move on. The south swell generated by big winds to the south of us is dropping, making Maupiti’s Passe Onoiau navigable once again. The weather files make it look like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday will be good days to depart, with southerly winds filling in and backing to some brisk southeasterlies by week’s end. So, we prepare for passage, again.

Yesterday afternoon, I hoisted Mark up the mast for a pre-passage inspection. Today he’s finishing a small engine repair, and fixing a creaky bail on the boom that drives us crazy in rolling seas. We’ve decided to swap the genoa for the jib, and adjust our reefing points on the mainsail, in anticipation of some stronger winds. Tomorrow, I’ll bake some cookies and prepare a few meals in advance, to make sure we’ve got something hot and nutritious to eat during the first few days of passage, when my pesky seasickness makes cooking a little more difficult. Then we’ll stow the outboard, deflate the dinghy (again…) and stow it on deck for passage.

Right now, we’re planning to head straight for Tonga, but that may change depending on wind angle. Although there are a number of wonderful places we could stop en route (as I wrote previously), we’re inclined to keep going if the weather holds. Plus, the waters around Tonga’s Vava’u Group are a known breeding and birthing ground for humpback whales. From July through October, humpbacks from the Southern Ocean come to Tonga’s warm waters, and we’re very much hoping for some whale encounters! We’re hoping to cover the 1400nm from Maupiti to Neiafu in less than two weeks, but we’ll keep you posted as we go…

Here are some photos from our time here at Maupiti, the last I’ll be able to post for a while. I’m also including the link (click here) to a short video that I made, when we snorkeled and dove with giant mantas. Enjoy, and wish us luck on this next leg of our journey!

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The Sacred Isle

After nearly a week of unsettled weather at Huahine, we departed yesterday morning for the 20 nm sail across the channel to Raiatea. As the second largest of all the Society Islands, Raiatea is now the capital of the Leeward Island group, and shares a navigable lagoon with Taha’a, just to the north. Prior to European contact, Raiatea was the religious, cultural and political center of what is now French Polynesia. Legend holds that Raiatea was the ancient Havai’i, or Sacred Isle, from which all of eastern Polynesia was colonized. It’s also said that the great Polynesian voyages to Hawaii and New Zealand set out from Raiatea. Raiatea was also certainly Captain James Cook’s favorite island, as he visited on all three of his voyages, spending more than a month here on his third voyage, in 1777.

Winds were light, and seas were sloppy (as usual) on our passage, so we ended up motor-sailing for half the run, arriving at Passe Iriue, on Raiatea’s east coast, in the early afternoon. By now, entering the passes into the lagoons has become somewhat routine for us. We watch the swell breaking on the reef on both sides of the pass, but have learned to see the smooth water that will allow us access to the calm lagoon inside. We’d planned to anchor at a spot just inside the pass, but found two mega-yachts trailing a fleet of jet-skis, RIBs and sport fishing launches already there, a sure sign for us to move along.

We continued south for another hour, and found our spot just inside the reef to the northwest of Passe Teavamoa, known as the “sacred pass”. Just to the west of our anchorage, on the shore of Baie Opoa, was the sacred marae of Taputapuatea, one of the largest and best-preserved “temples” in all of French Polynesia. Scanning the shore with binoculars we saw the temple platforms, paved with black volcanic rocks, and imagined the approach of large va’a (Polynesian voyaging canoes), carrying chiefs from throughout Polynesia. It’s believed that fires lit on the temple platforms acted as beacons to these navigators, and possibly lined up as range markers for entering Passe Teavamoa. As sailors, and now ocean navigators ourselves, this site captured our imaginations in much the same way that the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion had, a place filled with the spirit of ancient sailors.

Today, we went ashore to visit the marae site, and see it close-up. We found that it still holds cultural importance, but more as a park than a temple. We’re in the midst of the festivities for the annual Heiva celebrations on each of the Society Islands, and today’s event was obviously a big bocce tournament. Teams clad in matching t-shirts bearing the names of the island’s villages competed on a large grassy field, while a woman called play by play over a loudspeaker, in both French and Tahitian. We paddled the dinghy in to the wooden pier, and all the kids that had been jumping into the water stopped to watch our approach. Once we had the boat tied up, and were a respectable distance away, a few of the braver kids climbed aboard and inspected our gear, leaving just a little sand and small muddy footprints behind as evidence. The site was wide open, and very well maintained, with ample signage in French, Tahitian and English, explaining the various structures. We walked dow
n to the shore beyond the welcoming marae, between two platforms where the high-ranking individuals would have been seated, and looked out to sea, almost exactly through Passe Teavamoa. Turning around, Mark spotted what may have been one of the signal fire platforms, in perfect position to be a back range. We didn’t have a guide, so couldn’t say for certain that’s what we were looking at, but it sure made sense to us. Anyway, that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it!

Returning to Cheers for lunch, we surveyed our anchorage a little more closely, using the sounding lead that Ross and Andrea gave us as a wedding gift all those years ago. Mark decided that there were just a few too many coral heads, too close and too shallow to feel good about staying another night, so we raised the anchor and continued south… to an anchorage that we’ve dubbed “Pure Paradise”! I promise to post photos when we next have internet, but for now I want you to imagine the following: you’re anchored in a huge pool of clear turquoise water, just 12 feet deep of pure white sand, for hundreds of meters in three directions. Ahead of us, about half a mile, is the fringing reef, complete with booming surf. Behind us, some 100 meters, is the navigable channel, which drops from our 12-foot plateau to over 100 feet deep in less than a boat length. On the other side of the channel, a half -mile away, is the rugged southeast shore of Raiatea Island. This was another one of
those places where we just laughed together after we set the hook, because it’s so beautiful and we feel so incredibly grateful to be here. The sun was out all afternoon, so we went for a swim and a dinghy ride after lunch. We watched the clouds and glassy smooth surface of the lagoon turn pink at sunset, and, after dinner, went out on deck to see Scorpius, Crux, Sagittarius and Centaurus in the bright haze of the Milky Way. The surf crashing on the outer reef provided the soundtrack for our evening stargazing. These are the moments, dear friends, that we cherish. They don’t come every day, or at every island, so we try to absorb every second when we get them.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to snorkel just inside the outer reef, and to explore the funny looking motu that’s out to the northeast of us. The forecast looks pretty good, so we’re going to take a play day before we have to start preparing in earnest for our next big passage – to Tonga. We have a few projects, as well as the usual fuel / provisions / laundry chores that need to be completed prior to departure. At the moment, we’re planning to complete our official check-out from French Polynesia at the end of next week, and then hoping for a weather window for the week-long passage to Suwarrow Atoll… but more on that later.

Hoping you had a fabulous 4th of July, Michelle